One of two buses purchased by the North Creek Business Alliance for a tourist shuttle service
North Creek Business Alliance officials will continue their free ski shuttle this winter between Gore Mountain and the downtown business district — including sweeps to area lodging facilities and the Ski Bowl Park — but they won’t be needing the services of Brant Lake Taxi anymore.
For the past four winters, the Business Alliance has used Warren County Occupancy Tax funds to hire Brant Lake Taxi for the ski shuttle. This year, the group will be using $26,000 in Occupancy Tax money — granted from the county and the town of Johnsburg — to buy two 14-passenger buses.
With the buses and the Alliance’s six-passenger electric golf cart used to transport visitors between the train station and businesses along Main Street in the summer, the business group will soon have its own fleet of vehicles.
“If we’re going to be a true destination town, these kind of services have to be available,” said Business Alliance President and co-chairman Michael Bowers, who owns and operates the barVino restaurant on Main Street. “The whole idea is to put heads back into beds. And what we have to do is create ourselves as a destination. People have to want to come here and spend a night. And people spend the night because there are restaurants, shops, transportation, whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, skiing, all these things we do.”
One bus, a 2005 Ford, has already been purchased. It had been previously used at the Lodge at Otter Creek, a senior living facility in Middlebury, Vt. It is currently at Garnet Signs in Chestertown for finishing touches — placing the words “Free Shuttle” on the front, along with “North Creek Business Alliance” flanked by the Warren County and town of Johnsburg logos.
“It’s a wonderful example of how local businesses — our organization — can work with local governments, Warren County and the town of Johnsburg,” said Business Alliance Vice President and co-chair Joel Beaudin, a partner at the Copperfield Inn. “They’ve been supporting us financially for four years.”
The second bus, a 2004 Ford, will arrive later in the year. But on Thursday, Nov. 14, North Creek Business Alliance officials will be unveiling its first bus with some fanfare, including a visit by town, county and state politicians.
“Now we’re going to have two vehicles that are going to be available here on a year-round basis,” Beaudin said. “We own and operate them, and they’ll be available for many things.”
Beaudin envisions one of the buses being used as a mobile information booth.
“The second bus will have a question mark on it and a big display on the bus somewhere,” Beaudin said. “People will be able to get on there and receive information. We’re working on a video for the inside. And we can take this bus to any event as far as Lake George or Brant Lake. And we’ll have a North Creek area information booth on wheels.”
With ownership comes the opportunity to serve more people. For example, the North Creek Business Alliance will expand its ski shuttle service this year by at least 300 beds, now making loops to The Summit at Gore townhouses and vacation rentals in addition to other lodging facilities.
They’ll also be able to tap into the mountain bike market in the warmer months, placing bike racks on the buses and transporting trail cycling enthusiasts to Gore Mountain and the new mountain bike trails at the Ski Bowl Park.
“It’s really important to note that the Business Alliance’s purpose was to get together, as a business community, to see how we could not just exist in a very bad economic climate four years ago, but how we could survive and thrive,” Bowers said.
And they’ve done that. Other ski towns, such as Lake Placid and Wilmington, have long-established shuttle bus systems for skiers. It’s a service many skiers expect in resort towns, and once a shuttle is established, it really needs to stay in place to meet those expectations, according to Bowers.
“People become accustomed to that service,” Bowers said. “When you come to a ski town, you want to have transportation. People don’t want to drive. What it does is creates in their minds that there’s a downtown North Creek.“
Before the shuttle service, many skiers would stay in lodging facilities closer to Gore Mountain and sometimes bypass the business district altogether. The shuttle bus encourages downtown visitation and connects visitors to different parts of the town, including the nearby Ski Bowl Park.
“The shuttle was only one part of a very large puzzle that is slowly being put together,” Bowers said. “But without the shuttle, those other pieces don’t go together so easily.”
But the ski shuttle system didn’t come together easily, and it wasn’t handed to North Creek on a platter like in other resort towns. This was a grassroots effort. Business owners pooled their resources — meeting weekly to brainstorm fresh ideas and work out problems — and created the North Creek Business Alliance from scratch. They applied for Occupancy Tax funding from the county and the town to hire Brant Lake Taxi for the ski shuttle and to finally buy their own buses.
“It never would have happened had we not had, or continue to have, municipal and county financial support,” Beaudin said.
But North Creek’s shuttle funding is unique.
“It is municipal, but it really is Occupancy Tax money,” said Business Alliance Treasurer Katie Nightingale, who is also a member of the Johnsburg Town Council. “Sure we’d like to wean ourselves from it, but it’s not tax dollars that we’re spending. There’s a difference.”
By comparison, the ski shuttle between Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington is an Essex County Transportation bus, which is funded by the state. In North Creek, the ski shuttle has been financed by visitors who are charged an Occupancy Tax (aka bed tax) during their stay in Warren County. That tax has been distributed by the county and the town of Johnsburg. It is not property tax money.
The long-term goal is to make the North Creek shuttle bus system self-sufficient, without funding from the Occupancy Tax. Bus advertising revenue is expected to help pay for upkeep in the future.
For now, North Creek Business Alliance officials are repeating the old Greyhound bus slogan, “Leave the driving to us.”
“Come to North Creek. Park your car. Ride the shuttle. Ski all day. Come back to downtown North Creek. Shop, eat and spend the night,” Bowers said.