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      Budget concerns an uphill battle for ski area

      The future of a ski hill in Traverse City will be up for discussion Monday night when City Commissioners and community members take a look at a long-range master plan for Hickory Hills.

      Traverse City has operated the ski area for more than 60 years, but with increasing budget concerns, officials are taking a closer look at many of the programs and services offered.

      The gap between revenue and expenses at Hickory Hills averages $100,000 a year. According to a recent report, 62-percent of the people who use the ski hill come from outside the city limits.

      The community has stepped up to keep Hickory Hills open to the public. The Grand Traverse Ski Club has helped with operations of Hickory Hills for decades and in March, representatives from several organizations met to discuss potential partnerships to help with operating costs.

      The group presented a preliminary plan for Hickory Hills at Monday night's meeting, highlighting how important the ski area is for the area's youth, as well its historic roots in the community. The plan's framework includes financial support from several organizations to complete a Master Plan at a cost of $32,000. That amount would be divided between the city, Garfield Township, Preserve Hickory, and GTSC.

      Because of the great need, the group plans to hire a consultant to lead the Master Plan process, something most commissioners are on board with.

      "The committee basically gave their nod of approval that if this comes back and it looks reasonable, we're probably going to approve the $16,000 it requires--and that's the maximum amount--for the study to do an in depth review of what goes on at the ski hill," said Mayor Michael Estes.

      The commissioners agree that the ski area is underutilized. They want to see it become a four season hot spot, helping Traverse City be tourist-friendly in the winter too.

      One commissioner says establishing a Master Plan is a good idea, it's just a couple years too late. Even if a plan is developed, it will take years for it to stand on its own, meaning the city will still be paying.

      Mayor Estes and Mayor Pro Tem Moore agree, if the slope closes for one season, it''ll be closed for good.