Claremont’s Arrowhead club, bike shop face space crunch with proposed lodge deal

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-03-2023 4:40 AM

CLAREMONT — There does not seem to be enough room at the city-owned Arrowhead lodge to accommodate the needs of the Arrowhead Recreation Club and The Wheelhouse, a local bike shop that is looking to lease part of the lodge to serve the recent increase in mountain biking on the hill.

After more than two hours of discussion and public comment, the Arrowhead Recreation Club Board tabled action on a proposed operating agreement between ARC and the city for use of the Arrowhead property.

The board will meet again on Wednesday to consider the agreement. If the 11-member board rejects the agreement, the decision could impact the city’s $20,000 annual subsidy supporting the club and its winter operations, City Manager Yoshi Manale said Thursday. Right now, there is an existing lease agreement between the city and ARC that expires next year.

“We are asking them to vacate the current contract and accept the new one,” Manale said.

If ARC votes down the operating agreement, Manale said he would advise the City Council “and tell them Arrowhead wants to go it alone.” Based on the volunteer-run club’s small annual profit, Manale does not believe it can survive without the subsidy.

Arrowhead is a 204-acre city-owned park off South Street next to the middle school. The lower section is a cleared field used for winter activities. The hill rises steeply into a wooded section where there are a number of trails for hiking and mountain biking with an access trail that is used by ATVs. The 4,000-square-foot, three-level A-frame lodge at the bottom was built in 1960, according to the city’s assessing records.

“I think there is room for compromise and we have to continue to explore the way the space is carved up,” board chairman Jonathan Nelson said at Wednesday’s special meeting at the community center where about 40 people were on hand.

Nelson’s optimistic tone was in contrast to what seems to be an intractable problem when it comes to reaching an agreement that satisfies the Arrowhead club, which provides popular winter activities on the hill, and The Wheelhouse, which has been in the forefront of building mountain bike trails that have attracted bikers from around New England.

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There was unanimous consent at the meeting that the Arrowhead hill, first opened as a ski area about 50 years ago, presents abundant opportunities for the city for use 12 months a year. But the proposed agreement, which included several diagrams, removes the Arrowhead club from most of the main floor of the lodge where skiers, snowboarders, tubers and ice skaters gather to buy tickets, eat and warm up and replaces it with The Wheelhouse. The change would also close off the outside deck to the public when The Wheelhouse is not open.

The Arrowhead Club would keep its rental area on the ground floor level, have two bathrooms and be given a seasonal space for a lodge with food being prepared in the kitchen above. The Wheelhouse, currently located at the Claremont Junction, would also occupy the top floor, displacing the offices of the Arrowhead club.

The proposed operating agreement states that “the city wishes to make Arrowhead a four-season recreational facility for use by the city’s residents and visitors.” The city aims “to increase usage of Arrowhead and to increase the funds received from operations at Arrowhead to offset the city’s expenditures for maintaining the facilities.”

No one at the meeting expressed opposition to those goals, but the proposed lodge use created division. Board member and longtime Arrowhead Recreation Club volunteer Leon Hobbs said the reduced space is inadequate in ski season and he declared people would not return if they had to sit in the basement area.

“This is not going to work for winter operations,” Hobbs said.

Taking away the warming area upstairs, which allows for viewing of people on the slopes, would drive attendees away, Hobbs and others said. Board member Chuck Allen, a founding member of ARC, said the bottom floor would have room for only about 20 people.

Others called for the bike shop and recreation club to work together. One resident said it should not be viewed as someone trying to take over the lodge but about helping Arrowhead reach its potential.

Manale said Thursday that the agreement works to ARC’s benefit from a cost perspective and sets up long-term stability for the volunteer organization formed more than 20 years ago. Under the proposed terms, the city would pay ARC’s insurance, which is about $10,000 a year.

“We are committed to making sure ARC remains a viable organization and that we continue to have winter operations,” Manale said. “I want to be sure Arrowhead is here 20 years from now.”

The current lease between the city and ARC, which has been renewing automatically every three years, does not expire until 2025, which some said gives the board time to evaluate all options.

“Take your time,” said Allison St. Aubin, an ARC volunteer. “Do not rush it. Don’t look at just one thing put in your lap.”

Manale agrees the space is the crux of the disagreement.

“That is what this is all about,” he said. “At the end of the day, the (bike shop and recreation club) need to get together and figure out how the space is allocated.”

A separate operating agreement with The Wheelhouse, which Manale said is very similar to the one with ARC, is still in the works and not finalized yet.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached a pogclmt@gmail.com.

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