On the surface, the proposed waterski event on Mirror Lake next summer sounds like a great idea, but it has divided this community because it's a bittersweet deal.
The first thought is, "Wow, we can bring in more visitors, and that would be great for business." Then the euphoria fades when we see the particulars of the proposed Eastern Region Water Ski Championship regional qualifier, which would be sanctioned by the American Water Ski Association.
The timing is just plain bad. Event organizer John Wilkins says the only time that works is the week between Ironman and Can-Am Rugby weekend. It may fit his schedule perfectly, but it's the worst time for hotels as it's one of the busiest weeks of the year on the Lake Placid calendar. That means there is no shortage of hotel guests, and business is brisk for most establishments.
On the upside, a waterski event would bring in a different clientele for Lake Placid shops. Those numbers could pay off in the future with repeat business. And Mirror Lake has a history of hosting waterski events.
Some tourism officials and hotel marketers say the waterski event would be a great for Lake Placid, just not during the busiest week of the year. What about late June or late August? Wilkins says that timing doesn't work for his sport.
Others in town cringe at the idea of having a motorized event on Mirror Lake, which is generally motor-free except while setting up for other non-motorized events on the water. Some property owners say their docks on the lake aren't designed for wakes created by motorboats, but Wilkins says these boats don't create huge wakes. Yet visitors still expect to have a peaceful paddle on the lake in their canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, not wrestle with motorboats to get to the so-called "quiet" end of the lake. And they're right; the entire lake should remain quiet.
When faced with making their decision to give tentative approval to this event at their Dec. 2 meeting, village board members said they would have liked more time to think about it. Wilkins said he needed a nod from the board that evening so he could submit a bid by Dec. 11, before the village's next meeting on Dec. 16. So the board members unanimously gave Wilkins the approval he sought, as long as he secured the needed insurance and met other conditions.
That wasn't an easy decision, and we're confident the trustees and the mayor had only the best of intentions for Lake Placid and its business community when they made it. However, we hope the next time they're faced with a time crunch, they'll go with their gut and take the extra time to study the ramifications of accepting new events.
With all the major events filling up the community's calendar in the summer, winter and the shoulder seasons, Lake Placid is in the enviable position to say no to new events. On face value, that may seem like political suicide, but it's more pragmatic than rushing into a decision when you're not ready. We don't have to accept everything that walks through the door.
When town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid leaders combined their efforts to establish a comprehensive plan, a joint land-use code and a joint review board, they set the tone for what this community should look like. They had a unified vision for code enforcement and development. They decided they didn't want to be like other resort towns that let developers shape the community Wild West style. The joint planners have made great strides here in the past 16 years.
Now it's time to create a vision for what events we want in the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid. It's time to have a comprehensive plan for the calendar of events, taking into consideration the needs of the business community such as lodging, environmental concerns, shoreowners' rights and the expectations of visitors.
What is Lake Placid's vision for the visitor experience?
If a family visits Lake Placid hoping to take a quiet paddle on Mirror Lake only to find a high-profile waterski event shattered that daydream, how do think they'll feel? Many families save money all year to take their vacations in Lake Placid, and this could be only week the husband and wife can get off at the same time. Do you think they'll be happy or want to come back? Probably not.
If people expect to use Mirror Lake for its best purposes, they shouldn't be caught off guard with an exception to the rule - a motorized event.
We're not sure how they do it, but community leaders should establish a vision for the visitor experience, including a means to achieve that vision, and add it to the economy and tourism section of the town/village comprehensive plan.