How important is Hickory Hills to you?
NOTE: Tonight’s City Commission Study Session isn’t expected to reveal any results. But, the discussion around the budget will likely dominate the time. However, I’d like to point out that also on the agenda is an update on costs and recommendations for addressing Division St. Review of that later this week, but a break down is at the Complete Streets Coalition (GV) website and tonight’s packet is online here (City)
Hickory Hills on the chopping block?
If you make it to the bottom, there’s a poll.
In my prime, I was a capable athlete. With a little more focus (and perhaps more height), I might have excelled, but as it was I held my own in basketball, mountain biking, football, track, and volleyball. In the winter, I also followed my friends to the ski hills, clicked into a pair of skis, looked up the “mountain”, and then prayed all the way up the chairlift that I wouldn’t die that day.
I never quite felt comfortable on skis. At one time my eldest brother was vice-mayor of Jackson Hole. He gave up the Great Lakes for the Grand Tetons; the mountains were in his blood. He would spend his weekends acting out his own Warren Miller film down Corbet’s Couloir or some other god-awful black diamond run.
You’d think some of that would have rubbed off on me, even if I was living back here in Traverse City. It didn’t. Luckily, there was Hickory Hills.
The humble little hill overlooking Traverse City from its western perch was accessible. The black diamond is named Pete, like some friendly neighbor who dressed up on Halloween–a little scary, but the end was in sight. Hickory had toe ropes instead of swinging chairs; rough on gloves but no act of bravery was needed. More importantly, there were dozens of school mates on every visit. Most of them much more accomplished skiers than me and so always way ahead of me. I’d meet them at the lodge when it was all over and that is where the hill’s real value was on display. Despite the apparent lack of adult supervision, it was a safe place for kids to…well, be kids. (I’m now fully aware that there was adult supervision, but a good sign perhaps is that as a kid I didn’t typically notice it.)
When I was appointed to the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission 2 and half years ago, I quickly discovered that there was a faction of City leaders among City staff, City Commissioners, and other luminaries in the community who were seriously considering not only shutting down the operation of Hickory Hills, but selling off the property.
It was an idea originating out of the now aging COFAC (city) recommendations. Apparently to some, the $70-$80 thousand annual subsidy is the quintessential drain on the City’s budget–roughly $6 per resident per year to provide for inexpensive, close, and safe recreation for thousands of kids every year. Or, $6 a year per resident to help maintain a program that contributes to stabilizing, if not increasing, property values.
Tonight the City Commission begins to discuss the annual budget. As we mentioned last week, the City Manager is suggesting that the operation of Hickory Hills be eliminated. To be fair, the City may have good reason to address the subsidy of the hill’s operations. There have been discussions over the last two-three years addressing it: the City has raised ticket prices; the City has partnered with the Grand Traverse Area Ski Club to help with the snow making and grooming; the City has explored a tubing run; there have even been discussions about setting up a recreational authority or non-profit that would manage the operations for the City. There are likely other solutions. But, the City needs to set the long-term goal of keeping the ski hill in operation for those solutions to happen. I have yet seen that commitment from the City Commission or the City Manager.
Needless to say, I like almost anyone who grew up in Traverse City have a memory of Hickory Hills. It is an important aspect of being from Traverse City. Those memories serve us well. They are not the primary reason to keep the hill operating. Instead, it is for the future why we need to keep it operating. The City Commission’s decision, to be made sometime before June 4th, and how they handle that decision is a sure test of what kind of City they envision.
Between now and then, our role is to politely let them know what kind of City we envision.
My question for the City Commission, the City Manager and you is this: