Hundreds to show up to view plans for Belleayre upgrades

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By Jay Braman Jr.
Development watchers got lots of news at Belleayre Ski Center Wednesday night.

It was the first public presentation of the long awaited Unit Management Plan (UMP) for Belleayre Ski Center. It had been a full six years since the 2007 scoping session where the public had the chance to recommend ways to make Belleayre a better place, and at last week’s meeting, DEP official Bill Rudge told the standing-room-only crowd in Belleayre’s Discovery lodge that the department considered all that had been said. “We took those comments to heart,” he said.
Wednesday’s session ran only for about an hour, but that was because Rudge made it clear that it was not a public hearing.

Major upgrades
“This session tonight is purely informational,” he said, before introducing Tom Tar, Belleayre’s acting superintendent, who walked the room through the $74-million expansion plan favored by the state.

Under what is called the full build out plan, Belleayre would get another 5.3 miles of ski trails and enough extra chairlifts, lodge space and parking facilities to handle 9,000 skiers a day, roughly twice what Belleayre can now handle.

Specifically, the project calls for the installation of three new ski lifts, replacement of two existing ski lifts, addition of 16 new ski trails, construction of up to three additional parking areas, expansion of the existing Discovery Lodge and Sunset Lodge and construction of the following new structures; the Tomahawk Lodge, an information booth, a salt-storage building, an additional snowmaking pond, installation of snowmaking piping, a lower pump house, and compressor facility and modification of existing pump houses.

Tar said that when all is said and done, Belleayre would provide a ski experience more in tune with what its skiers want.

While preparing the plan, officials had the choice of developing new trails on the eastern side of Belleayre or on the western side where the old Highmount Ski Center is located. The Highmount side was chosen, officials said, for several reasons, including the fact that many of the old ski center trails can be used, so less tree cutting would be required.

Lodging shift
Tar noted that a key element of the plan is that the main area where skiers converge would be moved from the Overlook Lodge, the current main lodge higher up the mountain, down to the Discovery Lodge, which now services novice skiers.

Tar said the idea is to centralize skiers in that one location in a much larger lodge facility and build new lifts that would take skiers all the way to the top of the mountain.

Performance space
Another feature of the plan is to modify the Overlook Lodge to serve as an outdoor performance/concert space with a total of 2,894 seats. Of those, about 1,200 would be covered and the rest would be open-air seating on the slopes right behind the lodge.

As part of the review process, the department was required to consider other plan options. A few others were considered, all of them smaller than the full build out version, but those options were not discussed in detail Wednesday.

Rudge reminded all of the public hearing on the plan set for Wednesday, May 29, also in the Discovery Lodge. He said that all comments would be taken seriously and urged everyone who has something to say to put it in writing, even if they plan to speak at the much-anticipated public comment sessions.
Rudge said that so many comments are expected at those sessions, to be held at 3 and 6 p.m., that there is no way of knowing how long things will run. “We hope we can get it all done in one night,” he said.