Carving Out What’s Next…

Fitting with Hickory’s history, Preserve Hickory and its partners have persisted. The development of the Hickory Hills Master Plan has been the most significant, collaborative, public-private effort to support the park since it was first established. Encouraged by strong and vocal public support, in June 2015 the City of Traverse City pledged $1.5 million from the Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund* to improve Hickory. We are now challenged to match that pledge by June 2017.

The Plan’s re-design of Hickory is exciting. While maintaining the integrity of the park and its natural surroundings, Phase 1 of the project consists of design and construction of a new lodge and related infrastructure, ski area improvements and the new trail system. The new lodge and trail system will address Hickory’s urgent needs including:

  1. New revenue opportunities (lodge rentals, food and beverage, rental equipment);
  2. Universally accessible facility, parking and activities;
  3. Increased opportunities for both winter sports and disc golf enthusiasts;
  4. New comprehensive, multipurpose trail system; and
  5. Investment in aging infrastructure thus reducing the costs of deferred maintenance.


bikingDespite the expanse of the property and significant opportunity for varied recreational opportunities at Hickory, the park’s revenue is currently limited to that generated from its ski operations.2 As such, park operating costs have been viewed by some to be expensive when compared to other parks. To support the ski operations, the City employs full-time and seasonal staff. Annual ticket sale revenues average $90,000 per year representing nearly 93% of revenue for the park. An additional $7,000 is generated through retail, food and beverage sales and lessons. Annual expenses average $175,000. The City funds the remaining ski operating costs through its general fund.

Despite the cost, ski operations are and have been efficiently operated. SE Group, the author of the Plan, concluded that Hickory is “extremely well managed” with operating expenses at only 9-12% of the benchmark comparisons. The consultant’s analysis determined that revenues do not cover expenses because of limited revenue sources. When comparing Hickory to other similarly situated mid-western ski resorts, SE Group determined that Hickory currently experiences only 15% of the benchmark for total revenue per skier visit for two reasons: revenue-producing amenities (food and beverage, lessons, lockers, rental and retail) simply do not exist and the park is closed for most of the year. With the implementation of the Plan, Hickory will draw daily and seasonal users, employ more individuals and produce additional income through all-season fees and food and beverage sales. With greater and all season reach, continued efficient operations and additional revenues, the Plan anticipates that Hickory will no longer operate at a deficit. Plan or not, the public feels so strongly about maintaining the ski hill, however, that 94.3% of survey respondents believe that the City should continue its financial support of the hill. Voter and community support for the hill runs deep.

Facing Hard Facts

Hickory has survived the test of time and yet in many ways is frozen in time. Park lovers are nostalgic for the shed-style lodge,
the fireplace, the hand-hewn ski racks and woodpiles. Hickory, however, must face these facts:

  • The infrastructure, especially the 60+ year-old lodge, is ailing
  • Operating revenues do not cover operating expenses
  • Potential revenue sources exist, but have not been tapped
  • The park remains underutilized, especially for all-season recreation
  • Current park amenities are not universally accessible and do not meet ADA standards

The Plan resolves these issues and will maximize Hickory’s potential, yet respect its much-loved, natural setting.

World Class Comprehensive Trails

Overwhelming public opinion influenced the decision to locate the new lodge between Hickory Meadows and Hickory Hills
thus creating a unique opportunity for trail development and connection.

The trail discussion alone has generated incredible enthusiasm among area, recreational clubs who view an improved Hickory as new territory. Formal design is central to the Plan and will be developed in phases. In its early, conceptual stages, the design anticipates low impact lighting for the Nordic loop and future, potential access from the current Hickory Meadows M-72 trail head. The disc golf course will expand as a result of the Plan and may be slightly altered as the trails develop.

A comprehensive, wooded trail system over 125 acres in the center of Traverse City that accommodates recreational and competitive users and world class, all season events with the potential to connect other trail systems and recreational areas is visionary. Community surveys confirmed that trails remain the draw for park users. Whether snowboarders, downhill or Nordic skiers, bikers, runners or hikers or dog walkers, the trails are what bring people to the park during all seasons.

*The trust fund was created by ballot measure exclusively for capital improvements to City parks.


Getting There…Goals and Timeline


A public/private partnership (City of Traverse City, Garfield Township, Preserve Hickory and GT Ski Club) finances and leads a 2-year Hickory Hills Master Plan process with significant public input. The Plan is vetted by the public and adopted by joint resolution of the City and Garfield Township.

Summer 2015

Following significant, public influence and the unanimous support of the Master Plan by the Traverse City Parks and Rec Commission, the Traverse City City Commission approves a $1.5 million pledge from Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund to implement Hickory’s Master Plan with a required outside match to be raised within 24 months.

Fall 2015

Preserve Hickory undertakes a fundraising campaign with a Phase 1 goal of $1.6 million to leverage the City’s pledge
and implement the Master Plan.


Comprehensive trail design and preliminary site development to be completed.


Construction of Phase 1 improvements to be initiated as planning is completed and charitable giving goals are realized.