Critics Say Zipline Will Hurt, Not Help, Lake George Tourism

The Wild West Ranch & Western Town, in Lake George, N.Y., sits at the foot of French Mountain. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

“Our concern is that the zip line would detract from the scenic qualities that draw people to Lake George RV Park more than any benefit they would derive,” said Claudia Braymer, the R.V. park’s lawyer. The business gets 28,000 to 35,000 visitors per year, she said.

Mr. Macchio, 76, a resident of Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island, bought a seasonal home and 750 acres in Lake George in 2005. He said the zip line would be a year-round attraction and would generate the traffic needed to resurrect his Wild West Ranch and restaurant, which shut down more than a year ago.

“I’m hoping to see Lake George evolve into a year-round business community,” he said. “There’s no reason this town can’t be like Lake Placid or Saratoga.”

The ride would consist of two 34-foot towers, one just below the mountain’s summit and the other at the base, connected by multiple three-quarter-inch cables. The attraction, to be called the Bear Pond Zip-Flyer, would last all of 58 seconds, but it would afford riders an unusual view of the Adirondacks at roughly 55 miles per hour.

Mr. Macchio has amended his original plan, in part, to help win support from the Adirondack Park Agency. He agreed to minimize tree-cutting at the launch area, selectively cutting beneath the ride as well as planting new trees and shrubs to reduce the ride’s visibility, an agency spokesman, Keith McKeever, said.

Mr. Macchio said he wanted to erect the zip line first and cut only the tops of trees needed to provide safe eight-foot clearance for riders.

Ms. Braymer said that during the park agency approval process, the zip line was classified as a tourist attraction, which she said was not allowed in this part of Queensbury. “If you want to add another tourist attraction, the town already has specified where these things should go,” she said. “The top of French Mountain is not in that corridor.”

But the Queensbury zoning administrator, Craig Brown, has determined that a zip line is permissible. Under town code, it is considered an outdoor recreation activity, which is allowed at this location, he said. Mr. Brown said that each town had its own classifications and that “tourist attraction” was not even a specified designation in Queensbury.

“A very tiny portion of this ride would be in Queensbury,” he said. “The only structure in Queensbury is the takeoff tower at the top and a small amount of tree clearing. Parking, tickets, all that kind of thing is at the bottom in Lake George.”

The R.V. park has challenged Mr. Brown’s ruling, which will be taken up at a Queensbury Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on May 21.

Ms. Braymer said a zip line did not support Queensbury’s stated economic goals, found in its master plan, because other businesses that benefit from open spaces and scenic vistas would be impacted, too, such as hotels and restaurants.

But the entire Route 9 corridor in Queensbury is highly commercial. A mile south of Mr. Macchio’s property, new outlet stores are springing up in an already extensive retail zone, and Six Flags Great Escape, one of the Northeast’s largest amusement parks, is just down the road.

Ms. Braymer said the dispute could be resolved if Mr. Macchio would shift the ride to the north side of French Mountain and reduce its length by starting it farther down the slope. Doing so would put it all in the town of Lake George, where such attractions are permitted.

“That’s not a realistic approach,” Mr. Macchio’s lawyer, Jon Lapper, said. “For the zip line to be a success, it has to be long enough and high enough so there’s a sufficient view. What they’re suggesting would almost cut it in half. It wouldn’t be exciting.”

If the zoning panel upholds Mr. Brown’s ruling, Mr. Macchio will still need approval from Queensbury’s Planning Board, which could come this summer. The ride would take a few months to construct, so even under the most optimistic of timelines, it would miss the region’s peak tourist season.

But should the zip line be built before Christmas, Mr. Macchio said he might forgo the Superman outfit and fly into Lake George dressed like Santa Claus.

Either way, he said, “I’ll be the first one down.”

Ralph Macchio Sr., the ranch’s owner, is seeking permission to run a 3,450-foot zip line from the mountain down to the ranch.
Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times.

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