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“Devoted groomers” honored with gifts from town board

Dan McClelland

Trail team members Jules Callaghan, Jim Frenette, John Gillis, and John Quinn

Trail team members Jules Callaghan, Jim Frenette, John Gillis, and John Quinn

by Dan McClelland

The men who devote many hours each year to making the town's expanding trail network at the Tupper Lake Golf Course the best it can be to ski or snowshoe on were honored Thursday by the Tupper Lake Town Board.

Councilman John Quinn, who is himself a grooming and trail maintenance volunteer on John Gillis' team, presented insulated vests that evening to John, Jim Frenette Sr., who was a pioneer trail groomer on the town's course on Mt. Morris, and Jules Callaghan. Unable to make the presentation were volunteers Eric “Shakey” Lanthier and Scott Chartier.

The new vests are the first souvenir garments here to sport the new James C. Frenette Sr. Recreational Trails logo, which was designed by the ROOST (Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism) staff. Earlier this year the town board named the trail system after Mr. Frenette.

The vests were ordered from and embroidered by Stacked Graphics.

“These are our gifts to our devoted groomers,” Supervisor Patti Littlefield said of the presentation that began Thursday's monthly meeting in the town hall basement.

She said she was delighted the pieces carried the new logo in honor of Jim Sr.

Councilman Quinn called the vests “just a small token of the town's appreciation” for all the trail-maintenance and trail-grooming work of the small band of volunteers.

John Gillis expressed his team's thanks, quoting the expression often heard from country singers that “it only takes ten years to be an overnight success.”

“We've crested!” he said, adding, this past season, in particular, was abundantly successful and the longest season to date. “We started grooming before Thanksgiving!”

The plentiful snowfall this year and the preparation to the trails to make them skiable drew hundreds of nordic skiers from across the North Country every winter weekend, it seemed.

This season over 600 individuals registered when they came to Tupper Lake to ski the course and another 500 people attended the chamber's annual Brewski, Mr. Gillis told the town officials.

He said the sliding hill, which is also groomed by his team “was wildly popular” with local kids and their parents all winter long.

A number of the trail volunteers were headed up to the course the next day to remove directional signs and attend to other end-of-season chores.

The supervisor remembered the telephone call from Mr. Gillis in 2011 after Jim Frenette, who has been grooming trails on Mt. Morris for over four decades asked him to help him out. She said John was looking for town help to maintain and expand what was already there.

“It was a whole bunch of people you talked to” to build momentum for the work you had planned, the supervisor told him.

Other core volunteers soon followed, under Mr. Gillis' leadership.

Mr. Frenette brought along a Free Press clipping that evening when Big Tupper Ski Area cut the official ribbon at the 1973 opening of the Mt. Morris network which was eventually expanded to the golf course site.

Jules Callaghan said he remembered making the sign for the new trail network.

In the off-seasons of recent years the town's trail team has also been at the center of volunteer trail-building efforts, which drew the help of many in the community. The new trails have been built in the woods, rather than in open areas, to protect them from the wind and the sun, boosting the season's longevity.

Mr. Gillis reported that evening that much of the Adirondack Park Agency permit application work has been completed for the new multi-season trail soon to be built, which in his words, will cover the entire “backside” of the course. “We're inching closer!”

Part of the trail work will involve the construction of three new bridges which will cross wetland areas, requiring the APA permit.

Much of the tree-clearing in the new trail right of way has already been completed Mr. Gillis, Mr. Lanthier and others up to where the first bridge will be built, Mr. Quinn noted. “Work has to hold off now until we get a wetland permit.”

“We're not slowing down, however,...we are going to get the trail done!”

He also reported that a feasibility study commissioned by the town through a grant program has pointed up the cost of paid labor to tackle the bridge construction to “be way high.”

He said the trail-builders will need some town funds for materials and predicted with numerous local volunteers, like the numbers which have come out at past trail-building work bees- the new trail and its bridges can be built for “a fraction of the costs” detailed in the study.

John Gillis agreed. “We put out a call and people show up. Hundreds have over the years. That's how all the trails have been done so far. I'd rather build it locally...people like the ownership... they get that community's what has propelled us!”

Councilman Quinn reported that evening that the town has filed the first piece of a grant application through the Development Authority of the North Country to the Northern Forest Council for funds to winterize the pro shop and make other changes to help make it a four-season facility. The town's first application last year was unsuccessful.

The supervisor said this is actually an application to submit an application, which is the process that must be followed. Once the town is invited to apply the second submission is a very quick process- 30 to 60 days.

A year-round pro shop building would give skiers indoor restrooms and a warming place.

He also thought a small warming hut could be erected near the relocated fire pit adjacent to Cranberry Pond. An electric line is very near that site to furnish power to it.

“These improvements are necessary to making the golf course a four-season facility!” chimed in Councilman Mike Dechene.

“Maybe even a rope tow” for the sliding hill someday? the supervisor speculated.

Mr. Quinn also commended Bill Dechene and his highway crew, who he said were invaluable in terms of helping with the trail network's equipment maintenance and transporting of the machines to area dealers for service.