First ever Belleayre Mt. worker supports mountain expansion
By Jay Braman Jr.
Sixty-six years later, Odell Reynolds remembers it like it was yesterday.
In the summer of 1947, at age 20, he was part of a four-man crew charged with the task of cutting trees to clear a road up a steep Catskills mountainside for a new project. Armed with nothing but axes and bow saws, the team carved out a way in for construction crews that would come the following year to build the Belleayre Ski Center.
It was a government job, and one he was glad to be working on. World War II had been over for a couple of years, but work was scarce. Reynolds, who grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Halcott Center, thinks he was part of what was called the Civilian Conservation Corps but is not certain, saying that all he knew was that the state wrote his paycheck.
Back then he was getting a dollar an hour.
Now 86, Reynolds sees some startling similarities between those days and today when it comes to the region and Belleayre, now the center of attention as public hearings begin this week on whether or not things should be expanded and built up.
To him, it all sounds a lot like the old days of ’47.
“Back then the area needed something, and the ski center was going to be it,” said Reynolds, now retired and living in Kingston, where he says he has been reading about the controversy surrounding the proposed expansion of the ski center and of the plan to build a privately owned resort next to it. “But before we even started working, there complaints about more traffic.”
He also remembers that, back then, once the ski center was built and open for business, folks adjusted to the changes the new facility brought and ultimately were glad it was here.
It was that memory that prompted Reynolds to put pen to paper and send a note to the Catskill Mountain News this week.
“I wasn’t sure what you would do with it,” he said Monday. “I just wanted to try and make people realize that we need the best Belleayre we can get and that everything will work out all right, just like it did when we first built it.”
Reynolds said he only worked for three months before moving on to other things. After working on the family dairy farm, which he said was shipping a ton of milk a day, he took a job driving a truck for Slavin Concrete in Fleischmanns and then became a driver for Trailways Bus before retiring.
Reynolds still remembers Art Draper and Dot Neble, the two people who designed the ski center, as being environmentally conscious.
“They had everything laid out with rope,” he said. “We were supposed to cut everything within those ropes and they didn’t want anything falling on the outside of them. They didn’t want any of those other trees hurt or even marked.”
The original ski center was built by a crew of 135 men who built three main trails, a summit lodge, a temporary base lodge with a crushed stone floor, a cafeteria, workshop, a mile of access road, and a 400-car parking lot. The center had an electric rope tow and a Roebling single, the first chairlift in New York State.
The cost of the project was $250,000.