Tupper Lake town considers leasing Big Tupper mountain

The slopes of the Big Tupper Ski Area are seen across Raquette Pond in 2018. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The town and the owner of the Big Tupper Ski Area property are considering an agreement for the town to lease a portion of the mountain land to allow people to hike, bike and backcountry ski there.

Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield mentioned the possible agreement at a town board meeting last week but said there’s a lot to consider before anything is solidified.

This would not mean the ski area would be reopened, but it would allow residents and visitors to walk the property and cross-country or backcountry ski if they want.

The ski area, which was once a big part of Tupper Lake’s culture and economy, has been closed for many years. The town built the ski area in the 1960s and ran it for two decades until it sold the property in 1987. Local businessmen Peter Day and LeRoy Pickering kept it running until they closed it in 1999, and it fell into disrepair.

In 2003, developers Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson planned to revive the ski area and build a resort and luxury home development on it and its surrounding land, called the Adirondack Club and Resort. But after stalled state agency permits and long legal battles with environmentalists and creditors, the project ran out of momentum.

Franklin County is now attempting to foreclose on the property, taking it from the owners for unpaid taxes. This attempt was stalled in court this spring as property owners and lien holders tried to get the foreclosure thrown out.

If the county is able to put the property out to auction, the town would have first rights to buy the mountain if the county allows, and the town board has expressed interest in purchasing the property if it can.

The lease was a suggestion of the Tupper Lake Business Group’s Big Tupper committee, which Littlefield is on.

Littlefield said when she talked with Foxman several months ago, he said he wasn’t interested in pursuing a lease with the town. But when they spoke last week, he said he’s “inclined” to let the town lease all or some of the Big Tupper property for recreation. Littlefield said she wasn’t sure what changed.

The town currently has an agreement with Foxman for access to the James C. Frenette Sr. Recreational Cross-Country Trails already on his property.

There are lots of options for how this could go down, Littlefield said.

The town could extend the cross-country trails to the mountain; allow snowshoeing, hiking, mountain biking or backcountry skiing; or allow everything. No motorized equipment would be allowed on the property.

Littlefield suggested a phased approach, expanding recreational access to the mountain bit-by-bit.

Littlefield said Foxman would want the town to take full liability for the mountain.

“That’s the big, big risk for the town, the liability,” she said.

She said it’s harder to monitor what goes on up there than on other town properties, and insurance could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Town board member Tracy Luton worried what would happen if someone gets hurt or killed on the town’s leased land.

“We can’t hold back because of that,” town board member Mike Dechene said, adding that people could die on a snowmobile trail on town-owned land.

“We live in a litigious society,” town board member Mary Fontana said. “People are going to sue regardless of who owns the property.”

Littlefield said before an agreement can be reached, the town will have to present Foxman with a plan. Before it can do that, it needs to investigate how much insurance will cost. Before that, she needs an idea of what the business group will ask for.

“We’re going to put the ball in the business group’s court and ask them to give us a specific proposal that we can go to Mr. Foxman with,” Littlefield said.

She also said the town should probably hold a public hearing to see what the taxpayers think of leasing the property and paying for insurance there.

“The public would be paying for it, so let’s see what they want to pay for,” Littlefield said. “I think there’s a lot of support, but we have to do our due diligence.”

Jim Costley, a TLBG member who attended the town board meeting on Thursday, said if the town leases the property, it might help it eventually acquire the land if it goes up to auction.

“If we could get a one- or two-year agreement, I think that would really show the county that we are definitely moving forward with an interest in that whole facility,” Costley said.

Littlefield said she hopes to have more information before the town’s October board meeting.


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