Marko Schmale, of Whitewater Challengers in North River
Someone surveying the towering hill behind Whitewater Challengers rafting business along Route 28 in North River might see trees and brush, boulders and dirt and remnants of the latest snow fall. But Whitewater Challengers owner Marko Schmale looks at the hillside and sees the future.
“If it ever became available, I knew what I wanted to do with that piece of property 10 years ago,” Schmale said Feb. 20 as he discussed his vision for the property. “It became available last June and I’ve been working on it ever since.”
The future Schmale sees for the 17-acre parcel features a forest adventure course that includes a tree-top zip line, a zap line, (a shorter version of a zip line) along with an interpretive hiking trail and two paintball fields.
All are designed to supplement the whitewater rafting business that has operated from that location since 1984 and broaden the options available for visitors to the upper Hudson River region.
Whereas a rafting trip takes a full day, Schamle said he’s envisioning activities that can be enjoyed during a two-, three- or four-hour time period.
“Let’s say someone checks into the Copperfield at 1 in the afternoon for a rafting trip the following day,” he said. “They’re wondering what they could do during an afternoon. This gives them some options.”
Schmale closed on purchase of the property in December. At about the same time, on Dec. 5, Schmale obtained Adirondack Park Agency approval for his project. He said he’s been to the Johnsburg Planning Board three times as part of the approval process, with a fourth visit coming this Monday, Feb. 27, at the Board’s regular monthly meeting.
“I’m hoping next Monday we’ll have cleared all the hurdles and be good to go,” Schmale said. “Then I’ll be hiring a contractor to install the zip line.”
Planning Board Chairwoman Dottie Osterhout said a public hearing that began at the Board’s Jan. 23 meeting was kept open to allow time for additional comments from the public. The Planning Board has received just one letter expressing concerns about the project, Osterhout said.
“I think most of the concerns, in my opinion, can be mitigated with rules and regulations imposed by the Planning Board,” Osterhout said.
She anticipates that the board will vote on Schmale’s project on Monday.
“Unless something new comes up, I believe it will be,” Osterhout said. “New information can always come to light. But I’d like to hope we can vote on the project Monday.”
At the Jan. 2 meeting of the Planning Board, Schmale responded to a Dec. 19 letter from the town zoning enforcement officer and offered additional details of his proposal:
•The location offers parking on-site for 25 vehicles.
•Hours of operations will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and weekends.
•Staffing would include one guide per eight guests; one referee per 10 to 15 guests on the paintball fields with other staff on duty. One zip guide per 10 participants; a staff member on duty to park cars.
•Minimum age for the zip line would be 10 years old.
Schmale has existing restrooms on-site and will bring in portable toilets to augment those facilities. He has purchased two new Ford 12-passenger vans that will enable him to ferry customers from remote locations such as The Copperfield Inn and transport them to the North River facility. Doing so has a dual purpose, he said. It will enable large groups to travel together and will help cut down on congestion along Route 28 in the area of the business.
The paintball fields will host what Schmale termed as more recreational, less competitive paintball than the “hardcore” games hosted at other facilities.
“So if a group of people on the spur of the moment said, ‘hey let’s go try some paintball,’ this would be a place where they could do that,” he said.
The interpretive hiking trail will feature informational graphics describing types of trees and other plants growing along the trail along with background information talking about why certain plants grow in certain places.
“It’s a nice wooded lot,” Schmale said of the 17-acre parcel. “It’s ideal for a hiking trail.”
The facility could be open as soon as May if Planning Board approval comes soon, he said. When open, the facility will add a half-dozen or more positions to his existing staff, Schmale said. He envisions hiring two assistant manager type people to help run the facility. In addition, he said he’ll need four or five more staff to properly assist guests.
“Everybody around town seems excited,” Schmale said, describing the reception he’s gotten to his plan. “My goal is to be able to make money and hire more people. We want to cater to what visitors to the area want and I think offering these options is a way to do it.”