TUPPER LAKE — City Council has created a new citizens’ advisory committee with plans to potentially reopen Mount Morris — where the Big Tupper ski area is located — to the public.
Renewing public access to the mountain was a key reason Councilman Rick Donah ran for office last November, and he’s thrilled the city is taking steps to get the process started.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “It’s just a tragedy to have that mountain there and no one is using it.”
Donah said the reopening of the ski lifts is not on the agenda at this time. It would be a huge undertaking with many legal, financial and governmental steps first. Even without the lifts, he says the mountain has a lot to offer as a 3,117-foot-high recreation opportunity in its own right. He said people could hike, backcountry ski, snowshoe, bike or even picnic on the mountain.
He envisions a recreation area connected to existing amenities such as the town-owned golf course and cross-country ski trails therein.
The town currently has a lease agreement with owner Michael Foxman that extends its recreational James C. Frenette Sr. cross-country ski trails to the base of the mountain. Donah hopes that when this contract is renewed at the end of April, they can extend it to rent the whole mountain.
Donah said Foxman was “open to the idea” and the city would just have to develop insurance, policies and procedures to use there.
Donah said he and former city supervisor Clint Hollingsworth began speaking with Foxman in January, before Hollingsworth died in February.
Donah said he was very committed to opening the mountain to the public. Growing up here, he said he knew how precious the mountain was and how difficult it was without public trail access.
Donah said it was a “tragedy” for the city to lose control of Big Tupper. He said the negative effects of the ski area being closed for years have slowed economic growth in Tupper Lake.
Cost of opening to the public
Donah said the city’s goal is to reduce the burden on ratepayers as it seeks to open up public assessment to the mountain.
He said they expected it would cost the city just $275 a year to insure the property, based on a quote from the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal.
The Tupper Lake Business Group recently formed Recreate Tupper Lake Inc., a non-profit organization to raise funds for future improvements through donations.
“We actually (finally!) received our 501(c)(3) approval letter last week,” Kelly Fleury, an accountant at Martin & Dukett, LLC who helped the TLBG, wrote in an email. .
Ray Martin, who was co-owner of the accounting firm, helped found this organization before his passing in November 2021.
Fleury said this 501(c)(3) designation will allow donations to the group to be tax-deductible and income and purchases he makes to be tax-exempt, as long as they relate to the charitable purpose of the organization – to promote economic growth in Tupper. Lake.
The group also hopes to build and expand local cross-country ski trails, snowmobile trails, downhill ski trails, biking trails and the town-run golf course.
Past and future ski area
After the city sold the ski area in 1987, it changed hands several times and finally closed in 1999 and fell into disrepair.
Developers Foxman and Tom Lawson began planning to relaunch the ski area in 2003 and wanted to build the Adirondack Club and Resort, a resort and luxury home development there.
Development has stalled as permits from state agencies have been blocked by legal battles, both with environmentalists and creditors. The project eventually ran out of momentum and money.
From 2009 to 2016, a group of volunteers under the name Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy resurrected the ski area, but when funding ran out, the lifts shut down again.
Foxman and Lawson’s legal battles landed them in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in unpaid back taxes with Franklin County. The county is now trying to seize the property.
Last year, the city council sent a letter to the county, saying that if Franklin County forecloses on the ski area, the council would be interested in a chance to buy it. The foreclosure effort stalled in court this time last year, when landowners and lien holders filed an attempt to have the foreclosure thrown out challenging it.
Franklin County Treasurer Fran Perry said the county is still working on a response. Last year she said she was confident the lockdown would stick and called the challenges a “delaying tactic”.
Perry said the county was busy with a three-year backlog of foreclosure cases, which built up as the state halted all foreclosures during the pandemic, a moratorium that lasted from December 2020 to January 15, 2022. The county also has a new attorney.
If the foreclosure does go through and the county puts it up for auction, the city of Tupper Lake would have the first right to buy the mountain if the county allows it, and some hope the city could buy the land at a discount for just the cost of the back taxes due.
Currently, Franklin County is missing more than $241,000 in taxes owed by ACR developers over several years. Maroun, who is also a Franklin County lawmaker, said the county board is open to eliminating penalties on those back taxes, just so the taxes can be refunded and the mountain can return to the docket. of taxation.
Last year, Donah said he believed the city, which originally created and managed the ski area, had the right to take it back.
“Everything is negotiable. In my opinion, I don’t think the city should have to pay anything for this,” he said while campaigning for his seat on city council.
The city invested a lot of money in the ski area when it owned the mountain, and he said the county could choose to give it back.
Asked about it last year, Maroun said it was unlikely to happen. The other six county lawmakers won’t be willing to let the city take the land and have their taxpayers lose the back taxes owed to them. He said he would do the same for them.
Maroun said there are several law firms and lien holders who do not want the judge to eliminate the liens and allow the purchase of the property only for the cost of back taxes.
A Franklin County judge will ultimately decide whether to eliminate the liens.
Maroun said he would like to see steps soon to make the mountain a ski resort again. The permit allowing this ski area to exist is likely the last of its kind in the Adirondacks Park, he said, because the Adirondacks Park Agency is unlikely to issue such a permit again. It took a fight to get this one, he said.