|FLEISCHMANNS -- This little Catskill village, once a retreat for the wealthy, is a ghost of its former self.
"We've got a used car lot, a couple of B&Bs, a couple of restaurants, and that's about it," said Malcolm Becker, deputy mayor of the village and its 328 residents along Route 28 in rural Delaware County.
"We used to be a lush recreational area, but to see it now, we are washed down,' said Becker.
A long time ago, the village, named for the wealthy family that made its fortune in prepackaged baking yeast and bottled gin, counted the famous Bloomingdale department store family among its residents.
In those days, the Ulster & Delaware Railroad fed the tourist trade, thrilling passengers with the climb up Pine Hill and around Horseshoe Curve near Highmount, home of the long-gone Grand Hotel. Trains continued to Arkville, an important rail hub where travelers could switch to the Delaware & Northern headed to Andes, or continue on the U&D, to lovely Halcottsville on Wawaka Lake, and to genteel Roxbury.
Now good jobs are hard to come by in Fleischmanns. Nearly one family in five is below the federal poverty level; that is double the national average.
The village is in the shadow of the 58-year-old state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, and Becker pins his hopes on a project to renovate the ski center and build a sprawling private resort nearby.
Becker's refrain is common among local officials from the Catskills and Adirondacks. As the state adds more land to the "forever wild" forest preserve, less is available for small towns to grow and attract new businesses to replace economic engines long dead, from Gilded Age tourism to logging.
Meanwhile, residents face a double whammy -- a dearth of jobs and rapidly rising real estate prices as second-home buyers move in.
New ideas cost money, and the state has put up $1.5 million for officials in the two mountain regions to imagine a new future.
In March, the state gave $1 million for 18 "smart growth" planning projects in the Adirondacks, after getting 51 requests for projects totaling $3 million.
Fleischmanns, along with five other Catskill communities, will share a half-million dollars from the state later this year.
Becker said he welcomed assistance, but hoped more state aid will be ready to help breathe life into any plan. "It is not very much money to start," he said.
Other Catskill towns that will get state planning aid include Andes, Middletown, Olive, Shandaken and Margaretville. Each locality will get at least $40,000 and will have to compete among themselves for the rest.
In the Adirondacks, the state is paying to study ways to bring new vitality to the 6 million-acre park, half of which is privately owned. Projects range from the opening of a theater in Indian Lake ($42,600) to designing a better wireless and cellphone communication network throughout the park ($106,971).
Essex County, home to Mount Marcy and the High Peaks region, got $100,000 to study how to make tourism into a "sustainable, year-round economy," and another $120,000 to look at ways to expand existing hamlets, which are less stringently regulated by the state Adirondack Park Agency.
Other projects are more local, including redevelopment, housing or sustainability plans for numerous towns, including Bolton ($50,000), one of the fastest-growing towns on the western shore of Lake George; Horicon, ($23,585); Arietta ($50,000), Chester ($35,000), Brighton ($46,400), AuSable ($26,000), Stony Creek ($25,000) and Wilmington ($50,000).
Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at [email protected]