If there was ever a winter to remind tourism officials that it’s dangerous to bank on snow, this is it. At Jay Peak Resort, developer Bill Stenger has already built a water park to give his visitors something to do, no matter the weather. Now he plans to do the same at Burke Mountain.
Last fall, when Stenger promised to sink $600 million into the Northeast Kingdom and create more than 10,000 jobs, the spotlight was on Jay Peak Resort and Newport. That’s where he’s showing lawmakers this week how he hopes to use foreign investments to build a marina and conference center, a bio-tech research and manufacturing center, and upgrades to the state airport at Coventry.
But there’s also big news farther south, at Burke. Back in September Stenger announced plans to build three new hotels there. More recently he unveiled plans to fill those beds all year round. By the end of 2014, he says there will be an aquatic center, an indoor bike park, and a tennis facility.
"So the whole thrust of these three different amenities– it’s directed at how do we keep the hotels busy, spring, summer and fall?" Stenger said. "But the aquatic center would have an open air roof and the mountain biking facility would have an open air roof, the tennis facilities, half of them would be enclosed, so there would be winter as well as other three-season utilizations for all of them," he added.
All that would transform what is now a low-key ski area into a major resort. Stenger says he already had budgetted for these amenities in his grand re-development scheme for the Northeast Kingdom, but waited until now to release details, following successful meetings with Kingdom Trails, the area’s outdoor non-profit mountain biking network.
"It’s a growing market, it’s a growing area of interest, we want to do something that is uniquely dynamic in the market and we are going to work closely with the Kingdom Trails folks and our own team at Burke that embrace mountain biking and see if we can do something very, very special," Stenger said.
This week, the snow cover is so sparse that the bike trails are closed to cross country skiing. But a few intrepid winter bikers are zooming around on them, and Stenger hopes two winters from now tourists will arrive in Burke with alpine skis, nordic skis, mountain bikes, bathing suits, and tennis racquets.