Hundreds of supporters rally to "Save Belleayre"
By Jay Braman Jr.
Locals residents, business owners and employees of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center came out in droves Saturday morning to a rally put on by the Coalition to Save Belleayre, the organization that blew the whistle on what many consider to be life-threatening budget cuts proposed for the state-run facility.
The event was attended by over 200 people, who arrived after a word of mouth message that the coalition, which was slated to meet that morning, decided just days ago to open up the meeting to the public.
The matter at hand for all was the recent announcement that Belleayre faces severe budget cutting, with as many as 300 jobs in jeopardy plus the scaling back of operations at the mountain this ski season.
One by one people took turns explaining how the cutbacks would do harm to them personally and hurt the region surrounding Belleayre, which straddles the Ulster/Delaware county border.
The governments of the three towns most affected, Shandaken, Middletown and Hardenburgh, had representatives on hand to say that their respective municipalities had already taken official stances opposing the cuts planned by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Congressman Maurice Hinchey sent word that he would personally reach out to Governor David Paterson and work to halt any cutbacks. State Senator John Bonacic’s Chief of Staff, Langdon Chapman, pledged the senator’s support to the cause saying that Albany needs to be aware of Belleayre’s importance to the local economy.
“People get their lives changed everyday because Belleayre exists,” he said, adding that he feels a bit like the main character in Dickens’s famous novel “Oliver Twist.”
“Please sir, can we have an economy too?” he said to applause.
Len Bernardo, a candidate for Ulster County Executive, suggested a new name for DEC, the state agency that oversees Belleayre’s budget.
“It should be renamed the Department of Economic Cuts,” he said.
Fleischmanns resident Robert Shapiro said that everyone knows the state needs to make budget cuts, but questioned the fairness of plans to cut as deep into Belleayre as is being discussed and wondered if other state-run recreation facilities faced the same fate.
Where are other cuts?
“Are the people at Bethpage Golf Course wondering if they will have the grass cut there? Are the folks at Jones Beach wondering if the number of lifeguards will be reduced?” he wondered.
Coalition Chairman Joe Kelly wonder if the state’s two other ski centers, Whiteface and Gore in the Adirondacks, were set to suffer the same degree of cuts. DEC spokeswomen Maureen Wren said she was not sure since those facilities are not operated by DEC but by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA).
Kelly said that regardless, those ski centers are still funded by the state. He called the difficulty of getting budget information from the state about Whiteface and Gore “a smokescreen.”
When operating fully Belleayre boasts the Catskills’ only cat-access skiing and a widened and improved halfpipe and Area 51 Terrain Park. With 47 trails, parks and glades and eight lifts, including a new high-speed quad, Belleayre Mountain has evolved over the years, especially since the 1980s when it faced closure. Skier visits have grown from 70,000 in 1995 to more than 175,000 skiers with visitors from all over the world.
It was noted that at present no one really knows the extent of the cuts proposed, although speculation among those concerned ranges the cuts from anywhere between a closing of the facility to a bare bones operation using only a couple lifts and a handful of trails.
DEC said Friday that Belleayre will be open seven days a week this season, but they would not discuss the details of any cuts, saying only that nothing has been decided.
Coalition to Save Belleayre Officials handed out contact sheets to everyone and urged them to make use of them. The contacts included DEC Commissioner Peter Graniss, Governor Paterson, Assembly members Kevin Cahill and Clifford Crouch, Congress members Hinchey and Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Bonacic and all County Officials within Ulster and Delaware Counties.