The Hill

In the heart of Traverse City lies Hickory Hills, a mid twentieth century, municipally owned and operated City Park. Envisioned by civic leaders, the small ski park emerged from the woods the way most things got done back then, through the persistence, hard work and collaboration of volunteers. Their idea: create a ski park where children could ski for free. Over a thirty-year span, the City acquired seven privately owned lots creating over 125 acres of parkland less than two miles from downtown.


Tiny in terrain yet larger than life, the park remains a safe haven for children to seek adventure without adult interference. Understanding Hickory’s continued, sixty-year success takes little imagination.

You’re 10. All suited up in puffy pants and clumsy equipment, the smell of cold in your nose, the scrunch of snow, the banter of your pals, the quiet of the trees, the hum of a tow rope… then the view from the top, the sheer expanse of it, the unruly independence. This feeling and its lifelong impact on the residents of our region is at the heart of what makes Hickory Hills so treasured. The park remains one of the few municipally owned and operated ski hills in the country – one of Traverse City’s truly unique assets. Skiing at Hickory Hills is the purest Michigan, permeating your mind, body and soul – an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere. Testimonies from
childhood memories bear this out.

Current Park Users

A community survey conducted in 2014 confirmed that Hickory is used for many recreational purposes throughout all seasons. Based on lift ticket sales, we know that more than 13,000 residents and visitors snowboard and ski at the park each winter, although these are just some of the park’s users. Hickory is a breeder hill preparing athletes for bigger mountains; more than 30,000 children donned their very first pair of skis and learned the ropes at Hickory!

For more than 60 years, Hickory has been the home hill to the Grand Traverse Ski Club, a local non-profit. Its dedicated Hickory employees and volunteers are on the hill each winter providing learn-to-ski and advanced instructional programs, Sunday races, invitational events and sponsoring middle school race teams. The local high school downhill and Nordic ski teams and the VASA Ski Club host their programs at the park. Their coaches use Hickory daily throughout their practice and competitive seasons. Hickory remains territory for the Traverse City West High School cross-country running team. Hickory is teeming with kids, coaches and caring adults whenever they have access.

The park is reputable throughout the state for its award winning, disc golf course. Thousands of disc golfers visit the park in the spring, summer and fall and participate in tournaments there. Nature enthusiasts, mountain bikers, hikers, dog walkers and cross-country runners regularly hit the trails.


Community Impact

Positive Economic Impact

Even in its current state, Hickory’s positive economic impact on the community is significant. Park use spurs local clothing, accessory and sports equipment sales, après ski restaurant and food sales, spin-off revenue for larger, regional ski areas, employment of park and private sector employees, and revenues to local non-profits for programmatic functions. Non-economic impacts include the enrichment of the local schools athletic facilities and capabilities at no cost to the schools. Large, area employers describe Hickory as a recruitment enhancement. Its uniqueness contributes to Traverse City’s receipt of national accolades as an outdoor destination for tourists and a wonderful place to call home.

When the Master Plan is fully implemented, it is expected to operate under a revenue model that significantly reduces the need for an annual subsidy from the City’s general fund. Hickory’s new trail system will connect Hickory Meadows and later, Garfield Township and TART. The connection to Hickory Meadows offers new experiences to new user groups. New trails will result in direct and indirect economic benefits by bringing a new venue for competitive and other events hosted at the park.

Healthier Residents

It is no secret that lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary, and children are spending more time in front of screens – either watching TV or playing computer games. The state of Michigan has seen a steep increase in obesity rates over the last several years and the Grand Traverse Region is no exception. For many, our snowy winters keep people inside and inactive. As a community park, Hickory Hills provides users of all ages opportunities to be outdoors participating in fun activities whether it be winter, spring, summer or fall.