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Is Lax at the Max?

By Antonio Olivero, 08/10/17, 3:00PM EDT


LAKE PLACID — Shortly after noon on Monday, the first day of the Lake Placid Summit Classic, North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi walked into the administrative offices of Summit Lacrosse Ventures at the rear of the athletic fields his town developed specifically for the annual tournament.

He was there to talk about traffic with George Leveille, co-founder of the seven-day tournament that now brings in 250 teams and around 10,000 total visitors to Lake Placid.

By Lake Placid standards, there have been a seemingly obscene amount of cars.

An hour prior to Politi and Leveille’s meeting, vehicles were backed up bumper-to-bumper past Lisa G’s Restaurant, nearly a mile away. Players were late getting to their morning games while residents and workers in town were shocked to see this sudden surge in traffic clogging the village’s primary artery, state Route 73.

All this traffic manifested due to two variables: a record number of visitors with cars in the village combined with what the town hoped would be a solution to traffic problems of past tournaments.

Politi and the town worked with the Essex County Department of Transportation to install a temporary stoplight on Route 73 at Recycle Center Lane, the entrance to the lacrosse fields. But with the light set to 30-second intervals in three different directions, traffic backed up during surge periods.

Beginning Tuesday morning, the town extended the intervals to a minute for traffic turning out of Recycle Center Lane and leaving town, while they decreased the interval coming into town.

“We got like, what, 5,000 cars in town?”Politi said Wednesday. “It’s a work in progress. We are trying to figure it out.

“And I think people have to realize,” he continued, “that Summit Lacrosse, this event is as big as Ironman — except it’s a full week.”

Lake Placid Police Chief Bill Moore also commented on how big the Lake Placid Summit Classic has gotten in recent years.

“I wouldn’t disagree with him,” Moore said of Politi. “It’s a high influx of people that are here, and any neighborhood you live in the village, those vacation rentals, they are full. There probably isn’t a room available in town.”

Over the past two years, Politi has used the same phrase time and again when describing the situation Lake Placid has found itself in during recent summers as more and more people and cars flock to this idyllic mountain destination for a vacation or event. Compared to other places, it’s a good problem to have.

“We are a victim of our own success,” he says.

Such is Lake Placid’s dilemma as it wonders whether it is staring at its own maximum capacity.

It’s a notion Jim McKenna, the CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, sees as not only a potential inconvenience for locals trying to get around town, but also as a massive economic windfall.

There are 2,000 hotel rooms in Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Wilmington and the surrounding area, McKenna said. Plus, of the 811 short-term rentals in Essex County, 90 percent — or approximately 730 — are in the town of North Elba. Nearly half of those, 334, are within the 1.54 square miles of property within the village lines.

That’s the equation for the congestion.

McKenna also said Summit Lacrosse, perhaps more than any other annual event in Lake Placid, has both an event and vacation element to it. There are those who stay the entire week, making a vacation out of it, and then there are those that cycle out or in during the middle of the week, depending on when they are scheduled to play.

This means more cars and people, but it also means potentially double the revenue for businesses and lodging properties.

“So what I think we need to do is fine-tune what we’ve got,” McKenna said Friday. “The private rental sector, it doubles the capacity to host people. If it was just hotels and motels, we wouldn’t be able to host this group.”

Tim Robinson, general manager of Terry Robards Wine and Spirits, is proof positive of just how much lacrosse week now means to businesses. Speaking Friday afternoon, he said the popular wine shop more than doubled its business in the preceding three days compared to the same span last year.

“It’s an amazing event in terms of volume of people,” Politi said. “The line just to get a hamburger is 50 to 60 deep.”

In its 28th year, Leveille and Summit Lacrosse Ventures CEO Ashley Gersuk say their event can’t get any bigger. And it won’t. They promise.

“I mean never,” Leveille said.

Over nearly three decades, Leveille, a part-time resident of the town and a self-described avid hiker, has seen his baby grow from a newborn tournament in 1990, something new in one of his favorite places, to what it is now. For the sport of lacrosse, it’s essentially the equivalent of a vacation week marked on everyone’s annual calendars.

“That’s 100 percent right,” McKenna said. “We want it to be that. … Part of our brand is sports tourism.”

Beyond the sheer numbers, an unbelievable amount of elite players and coaches of the past, present and future descend on the village. Lake Placid’s brand has boomed within the movers, shakers and dreamers of the lacrosse world as Summit Lacrosse has launched new boutique events and recruiting showcases during other summer weeks. And there are plans for more, even potentially some indoor events during the offseason.

It’s to the point where Leveille and Gersuk are turning away 100 clubs each year while 90 percent of teams come back for more.

Gersuk’s common refrain: “It’s a privilege to be here.”

“That’s what we are trying to do, really, is to connect this really cool group of people from pretty much the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states with this Lake Placid community on a permanent basis,”Leveille said. “And that’s what happens: People fall in love.”

Leveille also knows how much his event is helping local businesses, who are able to demand top dollar.

“There aren’t too many lacrosse tournaments in the world where people are paying $400 a night for a hotel,” he said. “That’s a lot of dough. You’ve got a captive audience.”

But this surge hasn’t happened without growing pains. The traffic light dilemma this week was just the latest example.

Another is lacrosse players descending on wilderness locations not meant for big parties, such as a “post-game cliff-jumping” celebration at the Flume swimming hole in Wilmington — where a man died a month ago and two teenagers died in 2014, all amid high water levels. Nearly 100 cars lined state Route 86 this week while more than 100 people jumped and swam at the Flume.

For a woman who cleans up the spot on a regular basis, she always knows this is going to be the worst week of the year.

“There are times when I pull out two garbage bags full of stuff, and three-fourths of that is beer cans and bottles,”Diane Kirby of Wilmington said of lacrosse week.

Another issue is misbehavior by lacrosse players, mainly late at night, and tournament officials teamed up with Lake Placid police this year to curb it. Village police have been explicit in recent years how lacrosse week has devolved into the worst time of year for bad behavior up and down Main Street, at bars and in vacation rentals.

Therefore, after last year’s tournament, the department and tournament executives met to discuss a plan to curb bad behavior this year. What they hatched is the “Summit Lacrosse Society.” Leveille and Gersuk describe it as almost like a membership and digital database program, through which the tournament and local police can more efficiently address and deter hooliganism.

Tournament officials distribute pins and stickers, branded with the tournament’s pillars of “camaraderie, competition and respect,” with downtown bar and hotel workers to wear and share. They feel this is the first part of a multi-year process of education.

There is also a boots-on-the-ground element of the society, as Dave Coursen, a former police officer himself, for the first time this year is captaining a group of off-duty law enforcement and locals who are walking Main Street and entering bars late at night to curtail problems.

“I want to set a goal to where we can virtually eliminate any off-field incidents, to the point where it is one or two,”Leveille said. “A kid urinating on Main Street is just not thinking. They are not a criminal. They are just stupid or blackout drunk.

“But if it hits one resident in a big way,”he continued, “it doesn’t matter that it’s one-one-thousandth of the event. In their world, it is 100 percent of the event. I get that.”