Mild winter affects business, recreation

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By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

 Left: The windmill blades sit in the parking lot of the WindMill restaurant in Long Branch. The blades fell off during a strong wind in the area on Dec. 28. Above: A Gerbera daisy blooms during the warm days of December.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Left: The windmill blades sit in the parking lot of the WindMill restaurant in Long Branch. The blades fell off during a strong wind in the area on Dec. 28. Above: A Gerbera daisy blooms during the warm days of December. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The unseasonably warmer weather this winter has had both positive and negative impacts on many industries and individuals throughout New Jersey.

A typical Garden State winter, infamous for snow, ice and frigid temperatures, offers the pleasures of outdoor activities such as skiing, ice skating, sleigh riding and snowboarding.

But not yet this winter.

According to officials with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Mount Holly, official temperature numbers for December will be announced within the week, but the weather officials did report that the month of December 2015 might be one of the warmest in recent years.

One such business — and pleasure — that has felt the lack of cold air and snow is the ski resort.

 KAREN KESTEN/STAFF KAREN KESTEN/STAFF “We haven’t been open yet,” said Ronald Fuhr, manager at Campgaw Mountain in Bergen County’s Mahwah. “We haven’t been able to get the hill open, which has an effect on everything.

“We have the capability of making [snow] providing the temperatures get down below freezing on a little bit more consistent basis then they have been.” Fuhr said the last two years the ski area has had later than usual starts.

“We usually average being opened by the middle of December right around the 15th or so,” he said. “We have some terrain open so that we start skiing before Christmas, and then by the time we get to the Christmas break, we have a reasonable amount of terrain open where everybody … can come out and try out their new equipment. But unfortunately that is not happening this year and is not happening anywhere locally.” Fuhr said the lack of ability to open to activity has had an impact on many aspects of Campgaw Mountain’s day-to-day runnings.

 Last January, a young sledder took advantage of the snow to enjoy a day outdoors. The weather last month was warm enough to play basketball and stroll around the Victory Park in Rumson.  FILE PHOTOS Last January, a young sledder took advantage of the snow to enjoy a day outdoors. The weather last month was warm enough to play basketball and stroll around the Victory Park in Rumson. FILE PHOTOS “The phone has just been ringing like crazy because everybody wants to try out their skis and their snowboards and they want to take lessons,” he said. “We have people who were planning on starting multi-session programs this weekend, and that is going to have to get pushed off because we aren’t going to have the terrain open necessary for that.

“This is affecting children who were looking forward to learning how to ski, and [it] just keeps getting pushed down the road.”

According to Fuhr, employees and local shops are also struggling due to the mild climate.

“It is not only the customers, but also our staff who depend on these winter jobs,” he said. “They haven’t been able to work, and college kids who come home from school are depending on three or four weeks of work for spending money and they’re not able to get that because we don’t have the work for them … so it has a ripple effect far more than just the fact that people can’t come skiing.

“Stores aren’t selling winter coats and ski gear and stuff like that, so it is not only the resorts that are suffering from it, it is also the local shops, too.”

Sara Hazen, director of marketing and sales at Mountain Creek in Vernon, said due to unseasonably high temperatures, the mountain remains closed at the current time, but staff are ready and waiting for cold temperatures to arrive and will work hard to open as soon as it does.

“We are continuing planning and continuing to make sure that the mountain, from an operational perspective, is ready to go,” Hazen said.

“We’re seeing the weather start to change in our favor, so we know winter is coming, we know it will come, you know unfortunately this year it is a little bit later than we had hoped.”

Hazen said throughout the last several years, the ski resort has started to learn to adapt to different weather conditions.

“We are definitely starting to see a pattern year after year with winter starting a little bit later but going a little bit longer and so we’re just learning to adapt to that,” she said. “We haven’t opened yet, so for us we can’t really predict how the season is going to go, so right now we’re just planning and we’re ready to go as soon as the weather becomes more favorable for either snow-making conditions or if it starts to snow naturally.”

While Mountain Creek might not be officially open, Hazen said there is still plenty of activity going on.

“We do have events going on at the resort, zip-lining is still available on weekends, our hotel is still available for lodging, so we’re not completely shut down. We do have limited activities and services available,” she said.

“For us because we are a full-season, full-year resort, there’s always work to be done and our morale among our staff has been really good.

“We still have people coming to work every day because we are finding other ways to utilize the staff that we have that are here for the winter season — they just might be doing things a little bit different than they would be if we were open.”

The unseasonably warmer temperatures have also had an effect on local individuals who provide snowplowing and ice removal services.

“While people are losing out on snowplowing, it opens up more to do outside,” said Matt Costello, who is an owner of a disposal business in central New Jersey. “Look at all the houses and buildings being constructed this time of year. In the past, with bad winters, these are jobs that would have had to be put on hold.”

Area school districts are also affected by weather conditions.

In recent years, districts were forced to burn up more snow days than what was built into the calendar. Now what happens if those snow days are never used?

“We have three extra days that have been built into the calendar for emergencies, weather closings,” said Joseph Majka, superintendent of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. “Depending on if the days are used, we can give them back to students — for example, maybe adding a day to the Memorial Day weekend.”

Despite the negative results that have interrupted the numerous outdoor activities, local park systems have seen several positive results that the unseasonable weather has produced.

“[While the] lack of snow does impede on snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding at Thompson Park and Donaldson Park, most of the county parks operations are in full swing,” said Eric Gehring, open space coordinator and park naturalist with the Middlesex County Park System.

One such operation is the ice rink at Roosevelt Park in Edison.

“The Family Skating Rink at Roosevelt Park continues to operate during a very busy season,” Gehring said. “Skaters have been enjoying the warmer air temperatures and the rink staff has been able to keep the rink iced up.”

Gehring said the lack of snow has helped to keep park trails, walking paths, playgrounds and basketball courts safe and clear to use.

“The lack of snow [has] allowed park staff to spend time maintaining park facilities, removing litter, cleaning and repairing equipment instead of plowing,” he said.

“The new Disc Golf Course at Thompson Park continues to be highly used, and [the] lack of snow and warmer temperatures have sped up the schedule to install new playground equipment and safety surfaces at Johnson Park.”

Karen Livingstone, public relations officer with the Monmouth County Park System, said while there might not be sledding or skiing, people are still outdoors and enjoying the facilities.

“We’ve had a very good year with weather,” she said. “Attendance has been up throughout all our parks, and people can still enjoy walking around, running, playing … we still have a lot to offer and have remained busy.”

Livingstone said, while she knows residents may miss being able to go sledding at Holmdel Park, people are still turning to other recreational and entertaining means to take advantage of the mild weather.

“We’ve had a tremendous golf season, people are still out there playing and we are keeping several of our golf courses open for play this winter,” she said.

Golfers can enjoy more time at Bel-Aire Golf Course in Wall, Charleston Springs Golf Course in Millstone and Shark River Golf Course in Neptune this winter season where, weather permitting, these Monmouth County courses remain open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Some people miss the snow, but it will be here soon enough,” Livingstone said.

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