Gravity-Based Attractions Generate Big Jump in summer business at Gunstock

GILFORD — Gunstock Mountain Resort is continuing to expand its spring and summer attractions as part of implementing its 2011 master plan, which outlines the resort's strategy to become a four season recreational destination.

New this year is an outdoor restaurant called the Landing Zone, which is located right in the center of all the action of Gunstock's Adventure Park and offers events and live entertainment on a 3,000 square foot patio with seating for 70 plus people, along with its signature patio bar.

"It incorporates outdoor dining as we continue to develop the Adventure Park. Great food is always part of a great experience, and with this ambiance, it is tough to beat," says Greg Goddard, Gunstock's general manager.

The Landing Zone officially opened on Memorial Day weekend and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day and has already substantially increased summer food and beverage sales at Gunstock according to Goddard.

Goddard explained that the development of the Adventure Park, with its spring and summer attractions has been the keystone of the resort's strategy to attract more visitors during the warm weather months. He says that nation 5 million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall and that Gunstock needs to provide the kind of attractions which will bring them to the mountain.

He says that in 2010, total sales between May and October were $1 million, but since the opening of the Aerial Treetop Adventure Course and the ZipTour Zip Line Adventure they have more than doubled to $2.4 million in 2014.

Altogether the Adventure Park has generated more than $5 million in direct sales since 2011, while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages, and chairlift rides.

And, just as importantly, the added attractions have already paid off the original investment. The Aerial Treetop Adventures required a capital outlay of $469,220 and has attracted 31,834 guests and generated $1.2 million in sales.

The ZipTour Zip Line Adventure, which when it opened was the longest single zip line span on North America at 3,981 feet and a total of 1.6 miles of cable overall, cost $1.63 million and has seen over 81,000 riders and generated just over $3 million in sales.

Goddard, says that an Alpine Coaster is slated to become the next attraction at the resort's Adventure Park. In March the Gunstock Area Commission endorsed the project and last month the Belknap County Convention approved a bond issue for $2.6 million to build it.

An alpine coaster is a downhill ride built on mountainous terrain and that carries riders in carts running on rails, relying solely on gravity for speed. Riders can reach speeds of up to 25 miles-per-hour, but unlike on a roller coaster, they control their speed with a braking system fitted to the cart. Built between 2 feet and 30 feet above the ground, alpine coasters are not affected by rain and snow and can operate throughout the year.
He told members of the County Convention that project is estimated to cost $2.6 million, of which the purchase of the coaster represents $1.5 million.

Goddard anticipates that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer and 30 percent of capacity on only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment.

Goddard said that the coaster will be built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps. Looking up the hill, the track taking riders to the starting point will follow to the right of the roadway that serves the jumps, reservoir and cell tower. The downhill track will wind through the wooded area to the right of the uphill track, making two complete circles and several sharp turns along the balance of its length. The downhill track will be 2,660 feet long with a vertical drop of 221 feet and a maximum grade of 18 percent. A round trip will take between four and five minutes, leaving the same amount of time to load and unload passengers. With 40 carts, the coaster can carry 250 riders an hour.

He said that the experience of other ski areas which have adopted the multi-season recreational model shows that they have experienced exponential growth in their summer business since adding Alpine coasters, including Cranmore Mountain in North Conway and Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts.
It will take a year to construct the coaster, which Goddard expects to carry its first thrill seekers in July 2016.

He says that the competition from other New Hampshire ski areas in the summer attractions field is fairly intense and that in order to maintain its momentum Gunstock will need to continue to invest in new attractions.

Goddard said that the long-range plan foresees investing $21.5 million in all aspects of the resort's facilities and activities during the next decade.
He pointed out that in 2000 Belknap County's equity in the resort was a negative $3.7 million while today it is a positive $9.5 million, a turnaround of $13.1 million.

Gunstock's winter skiing, snowboarding and tubing attractions attract between 140,000 and 170,000 visitors a year and generate between $7 million and $9 million a year in revenues. Originally opened as the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area in 1938 Gunstock was built as Works Progress Administration project during the Depression and is the only county-owned ski area in the country.



Few contested races in Laconia city elections

LACONIA — There will be few contested races on the ballot in November.

Mayor Ed Engler, who is running for a second term, has no declared opponent.

Four of the six incumbent city councilors — Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3), Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) — are running for re-election without opposition. The only contested seats are in Ward 2, where the incumbent David Bownes is challenged by Richard Beaudoin who ran unsuccessfully against Matt Lahey in 2011 and Bownes in 2013, and Ward 6, where Tony Felch, who failed to deny incumbent Armand Bolduc a 15th term in 2013 is bidding to deny him a 16th term this year.

With no more than two candidates vying for either mayor or a city council seat City Clerk Mary Reynolds said that in keeping with a recent amendment to the City Charter no primary elections will be held on the second Tuesday in September.

Four candidates have filed for the two seats on the Police Commission on the ballot. Incumbent Doug Whittum is seeking re-election, but Warren Clement, a 16-year veteran of the commission whose most recent term has expired, has chosen to retire. The three other candidates are Jonathan Muller, Michael Gagnon and Tom Tarr.

There are four seats on the School Board ballot, but only one contested race. In Ward 1 Mal Murray is unopposed in his bid for a third term. In Ward 6 Heather Loudsbury is the lone candidate running to succeed Joe Cormier, who has retired after 12 years on the board. And Michael Persson, the incumbent at-large member of the board, is running for a second term without opposition. However, in Ward 2, the incumbent Barbara Luther, who was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Beth Arsenault, is being challenged James McCoole.

Last truck leaves Liberty Hill, marking end to coal tar cleanup project

GILFORD — At 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 7, 11 years after coal tar was discovered on four house lots on Liberty Hill Road, the last of 2,662 truckloads of contaminated soil — enough to cover more than 30 football fields to a depth of six inches — was hauled from the site.

John Shore, spokesman for Liberty Utilities, described the last truck as "a huge milestone for the company, the neighbors, the town and the state that heralds the completion of one of the largest environmental projects ever undertaken in New Hampshire. He said that the site remains to be back-filled, graded and seeded, work expected to be finished by Sept. 23 when grass will begin to grow.

The quality of groundwater at the site will be monitored for many years and while the site will remain undeveloped it will be open to limited recreational uses.

Work at the 4.5-acre site began in the spring of 2014, spanned two constructions seasons and cost $13 million. Each day trucks left the site with 20 cubic yards of contaminated soil and returned with an equal load of clean fill, timing their trips not to coincide with the school bus schedule. Contaminated soil was taken 34 miles to Environmental Soil Management Inc.'s facility in Loudon, where the contamination was removed by treatment with extreme heat. Charter Environmental Inc. of Boston undertook the project, which was designed by GEI Consultants Inc. of Woburn, Mass.

Throughout the project, air quality, noise and vibrations at the site were closely monitored in order to minimize any adverse effects on nearby residents. "We really did our best to minimize the disruption," Shore said. "The low number of complaints reflects that effort." At the same time, he noted that crews recorded more than 25,000 working hours without an injury at the site.

In the 1950s the coal tar, a byproduct from a manufactured gas plant that exploded in Laconia, was dumped in a sand and gravel pit on the south side of lower Liberty Hill Road, which was subsequently reclaimed and divided into house lots. However, it was overlooked until 2004, when in the course of litigation it came to the attention of KeySpan, the corporate successor to the original gas company. KeySpan was itself acquired by National Grid in 2007, which was acquired by Liberty Utilities in 2012.

KeySpan and its corporate successors proposed several less extensive and expensive plans for addressing the contamination while town officials steadfastly insisted that all the coal tar on the site be removed. Ultimately the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) agreed and ordered Liberty Utilities to remove it.