Executive Summary

The Hill

In the heart of Traverse City lies Hickory Hills, a mid-twentieth century, municipally owned and operated ski area and park. Envisioned by civic leaders, the small ski park emerged from the woods in 1952 in the same way most things got done back then, through the persistence, hard work and collaboration of volunteers. Their idea: create a winter park where children could ski for free.

Over a thirty-year span, the City of Traverse City acquired seven privately owned lots of more than 125 acres.

The Problem

As competition for limited City resources have increased over time, the viability of the park’s ski operations has been threatened. Consistent with the spirit in which the park was developed and in response to changing times, Preserve Hickory was established in 2010 for the specific purpose of preserving the public park for affordable winter recreation for youth.

Public Awareness

In 2011, the non-profit Preserve Hickory sponsored and published a pictorial history of Hickory Hills, Light the Night. The outpouring of stories and sentiment for the ski park were overwhelming, highlighting the heartfelt appreciation for Hickory’s legacy and tradition.

With increased public awareness and appreciation, Preserve Hickory began an organized effort to preserve the ski park and retain the affordability of skiing for youth despite increased costs and revenue shortfalls. From its inception, Preserve Hickory understood that a fresh perspective was needed to change the negative impression of some that Hickory was unworthy of continued municipal support.

Initially, Preserve Hickory’s focus was on preserving the ski hill. It became clear, however, that a wider focus was necessary – one that encompassed the entire park and all of its users. So in 2013, the non-profit championed a collaborative process culminating in a Master Plan. A public/private partnership (Traverse City, Garfield Township, Preserve Hickory and GT Ski Club) financed and led the 2-year Master Plan process with significant public input. With more than 1000 members of the public responding to surveys and participating in planning meetings, 92% of those surveyed support enhanced recreation, activities, events and programs operated at Hickory.

The Plan

Approved by Traverse City and Garfield Township Joint Resolution, the Plan upgrades 60-year old facilities yet maintains the park’s rustic feel.1 An Advisory Committee was then formed with city and township staff and representatives from alpine and Nordic, disc golf, and mountain bike enthusiasts to implement the Plan. Based on public input, the Plan eliminated an earlier considered option for a tubing hill. With the exception of the addition of a magic carpet for the beginner area, tow ropes would continue to provide access to ski terrain. The much loved, existing lodge will be repurposed as a warming hut. The new lodge (multi-purpose, event suitable facility), parking and lighting utilize green design consistent with wooded surroundings. And, situated directly between the Hills and Hickory Meadows, it will connect the neighboring parks promoting the use of all terrain. Extremely collaborative, the project benefits from the passion and participation of all user groups.

The Vision

The enhancements include expanding the park’s reach and connections with Hickory Meadows and providing significant revenue opportunities to close the gap between operating expenses and revenues. The professional design and construction of specialized trails with appropriate widths, grade and tread suitable for recreational and competitive running and Nordic skiing is visionary.

The chance to improve trails, spur economic development and connect the Hills, Meadows, and potentially the Commons and TART Trail is unparalleled. But preserving the park’s tranquil, small-town feel while improving amenities, access and all-season use is a sensitive balance. Our mission is a thoughtful yet bold: to keep intact the freedom and wonder of adventure – whether skiing under the lights or hiking the trails – while advancing the park’s reach to all-season enthusiasts.

The Goal

The total cost of enhancements for Hickory Hills is $3.9 million. The City of Traverse City has pledged $1.5 million from the Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund, in addition to $300,000 in governmental grants to be sought. Preserve Hickory is fundraising for the required outside match to implement Phase 1 of the Master Plan. With a Phase 1 campaign goal of $1.6 million, we need community and charitable support. We invite you to participate as generously as you can in carving out what’s next for Hickory.