Dynamite Hill: a prime destination for a half-century

— As the upcoming celebration observing the 50th anniversary of Dynamite Hill Recreation Area approaches, people in North Warren communities recalled this week how the facility has played an important role in the lives of generations of North Country residents and visitors.

The North Warren Chamber of Commerce is planning a belated anniversary celebration for the skiing, sledding and skating facility which was developed in winter 1962 by the Chestertown Rotary Club. The event is to take place on Saturday Feb. 22 in conjunction with the town’s annual Krazy Downhill Derby on the slope.

Chester Fred Monroe grew up in Chestertown, and as soon as the Dynamite Hill Recreational Area was developed by the Rotarians in 1962, he was employed there as a ski instructor.

“Since the early years, Dynamite Hill has been extremely popular — it’s been practically swamped with children who’ve had a great time there,” he recalled this week. “It’s a wonderful facility for kids — generations of our youth have learned to ski there.”

He noted that in the early years, the ski slope, outfitted with a tow rope, hosted a warming hut with a fireplace.

In the mid-1990s, a skating rink was constructed at the top of the hill. Then in the late 1990s, he added, the town ski lodge was built atop the hill, with volunteer labor and materials donated by Lincoln Logs Ltd. A room in the building’s lower level houses the town youth program.

Then in 1992, the town board decided to maximize use of the facility by purchasing a used snowmaking machine. That year, Monroe’s nephew Jason Monroe volunteered his time to make snow on winter weekends, staying up all night — moving the snow gun every several hours to assure even coverage of the hill.

Fred Monroe observed that the snow gun produces a lot of snow, noting that on nights when left running in one place, it has generated piles of snow 14 feet high or more.

Chestertown Rotary Club President George Stannard said that Dynamite Hill has served the region well with its free skiing, sledding and skating opportunities.

“For generations, everyone’s been benefiting, not only local residents, but area visitors and low-income families in the region,” he said. “Everybody has used it — even people residents as far south as Lake George and beyond. Besides our lakes, it’s the most popular landmark in our town.”

Monroe and Stannard said people come to Dynamite Hill and spend the day.

“Dynamite Hill has been a great asset to the community, and everyone enjoys it or talks about it,” Stannard said.

The 170-acre plot also hosts the town Little League fields, located at the base of the hill.

In recent years, the recreational resources of the property have been expanded. Retired Forest Ranger Steve Ovitt has developed the new Caroline Fish trail system, expanding and enhancing primitive trails that had existed for years. The trail network is a favored destination for hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

This past year, Boy Scout Will Jennings constructed, with some help, an Adirondack lean-to about a half-mile into the woods at Dynamite Hill, and it’s now a popular feature on the trail system.

In Fall 2012, the town installed solar panels on an edge of the property to provide electricity for the ski lodge as well as a nearby water pump station.

The Dynamite Hill Recreational Area has also been busy hosting community celebrations and major events. For decades, it has hosted the Pug Parade & Party, as well as the Krazy Downhill Derby, a sled race featuring creative and often bizarre creations.

For decades, the facility has also hosted the annual summer concert series which features some renowned musical groups. The lodge has also been used for weddings, anniversaries and family reunions, Fred Monroe said.

“Dynamite Hill has served a variety of vital roles for our community,” he said, noting that his children learned to ski there. “My great-newphews almost live there now on weekends — they ski at Dynamite Hill all day.”

Eric and Kit Isachsen have been among those who’ve put Dynamite Hill to good use. They for years planned the concerts there as well as meticulously constructing wacky, elaborate sleds and competing in the annual Krazy Downhill Derby. Eric Isachsen recalled Feb. 10 that years ago, he and his construction business employees built a house-like structure on skis and how he, his workers and family members attempted to ride it down the hill.

“It went over a ski jump in the middle of the hill and we all went flying,” he said, noting his courageous crew won an award for the Most Dangerous Sled and were bestowed with a prize of a session with a chiropractor.

“Children spend all day there, and they make a lot of friends,” Eric Isachsen said. “My clients from downstate say they can’t believe that a facility like this is available to youth free of charge.”

Fred Monroe concluded that Dynamite Hill, as a regional attraction, helps boost the local economy, observing that on a busy winter weekend 300 to 400 people come to Dynamite Hill for winter recreation.

“It’s an outstanding place for kids to learn how to ski as well as go sledding,” he said. “A lot of happy memories have been made there through the years.”

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