Small town saves ski area: thirty-year-old slopes revitalized through citizen efforts

Small town saves ski area: thirty-year-old slopes revitalized through citizen efforts

When the Hard’Ack Ski Area closed down in the mid-1990s due to a lawsuit, its community members worked together to save the old ski slope hidden in the hills of St. Albans, Vt.

Initially used in the 1920s by residents during the snowy season, Hard’Ack officially became a recreational facility in the 1970s, when a federal grant helped fund tennis courts and soccer fields. Since then, the Hard’Ack Ski Area has always been a haven for families to enjoy the winter weather. The annual fee to be a member was nominal, sometimes amounting to $20 a year.

Maintained by the town of St. Albans park and recreation department, the part-time staffers would seed the grassy fields on the 10 acres during the summer, and watch over the crowds during the winter as they played on the two small ski slopes, says Tim Smith, then recreation director.

Funded through private trusts, Hard’Ack soon closed down after an accident involving a young girl. The quasi-board that oversaw the ski slopes disbanded. About three years after the slopes closed, Timothy Hurlbut–local attorney who helped the trustees during the lawsuit–re-opened Hard’Ack.

“I felt, as a moral obligation, at least to attempt it after we settled the lawsuit. And we have gotten a phenomenal response to [the ski area] and it has been thriving,” he says.

During the two to three years the ski area was inoperable, the money from the trusts allocated to its operating budget began accumulating. By the time Hurlbut and his citizen group reopened Hard’Ack in 2000, the initial budget was $20,000. With the money, the newly formed Hard’Ack Ski Board was able to open the ski area at no charge to the community.

Since its opening, the board members have added a new snowmaker and snow groomer, and have purchased 65 adjoining acres for cross-country skiing and a nature trail during the summer and fall months. Annual fundraisers contribute an extra $30,000, bringing the total annual operating budget for the ski area to about $40,000.

“A lot of us wanted to see the hill continue for our kids to have for generations to come,” says John Holzscheiter, a board of trustee and vice president of funding and administration for Hard’Ack.

Holzscheiter’s responsibilities include generating annual funding for the ski area that includes large events like a golf tournament and silent auction, and several smaller events that contribute to the overall budget. Hard’Ack’s success will continue through a 10-year master plan that calls for a multi-use recreation center and athletic fields.

“In order to develop this properly, maintain the fields that we want to maintain, which are numerous, we have to get the city and town rec departments involved,” says Hurlbut.

The town and city of St. Albans has a combined population of 13,000. While there is a multi-use recreation center on the outskirts of the town, it is mainly used by the local high school. Because the community does not have extracurricular recreation opportunities, the Hard’Ack 10-year master plan would be an ideal community project, Hurlbut says.

“We’re not experts by any means–we’re all volunteers. We need the input from parks and recreation on how to best create this recreational center that was just a ski hill into something much, much more; an all-season recreational center for just about everything,” Holzschieter adds.

Mike Boulerice, the current recreation director for the town of St. Albans, is also on the Hard’Ack board. Every year, Boulerice’s part-time workforce descends on Hard’Ack’s property to ready it for the summer and winter seasons. And he wants to continue working with Hard’Ack while the board implements its 10-year master plan.

“It’s something that we would be responsible to maintain but we would not necessarily govern it,” Boulerice says.

“The citizens have realized the recreation department cannot do it all and have stepped forward to pick up the slack, so it’s worked out well,” adds Smith, who was Boulerice’s predecessor.

Small towns and cities usually benefit from citizen support, but St. Albans’s residents have proved that direct responsibility and financial support can single-handedly grow parks and recreational opportunities even if town taxes don’t.

COPYRIGHT 2005 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group