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Musician Hopes To Transform Former Amusement Park

Jeremy Manning

A young entrepreneur hopes to transform a vacant amusement park in the Southern Adirondacks into a performing arts destination —   but he faces a testy political climate.

The tiny community of Caroga Lake has been making headlines for months over the fate of its once-bustling Sherman's amusement park.

First the original donation agreement of the property to the town came under scrutiny before it was withdrawn amid a political firestorm. Now that the town owns the parcel that features a lakefront dance hall, carousel, and events pavilion, the next step is determining what to do with the property.

At a public meeting last week,  22-year-old Kyle Price brought along a group of classically trained musicians as part of his pitch to establish a summer home for his Caroga Lake Music Festival, which has grown in popularity since its founding three years ago. 

Price, a native of Ohio, spent his childhood summers at Caroga Lake.

"I've walked past Sherman's, my grandma lives on the same roads, and I've always thought when I was a kid walking past 'Oh, I'd like to start a school there. That's so cool.'"

Price's concept, called the Sherman's Center for Arts and Education, would host performances in the summer and a year-round training program for young artists. This month the Caroga Lake Music Festival hosted a young musicians program at nearby Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

Price said he was pleased with the positive response to his vision from the community.

"Overall it's just a great event and I think it helps really establish a connection between us and the community to help share this passion for Sherman's. That's what everyone has in common, I think, in this  situation.  everyone has a great passion for Sherman's and I think we have the vision that can satisfy  everyone's passion and they can see Sherman's be turned into something that will be cherished for generations to come."

Town supervisor  Ralph Ottuso attended  Price's presentation.

"It's exciting, you know, listening to them play and stuff like that and I think that would be a   nice venue at times for them to play for the Town of Caroga. I think it would be super. I think he does a great job. I know everyone in town likes to hear him and his group play," said Ottuso. "They're incredibly talented individuals."

Ottuso also has a vision for the Sherman's parcel, now owned by the town. Last week the town board, which he sits on, passed a measure 3-2 to submit a half-million dollar application for a New York State Parks grant. Ottuso says the money would be used to build up the site's infrastructure. Under the original donation agreement that has since been withdrawn, the town would have built a public beach at the site.

The supervisor says he wants the parcel to be used for a variety of events.

"We want to kind of make it like a community center where it's being able to be used by everybody. Not just one entity, but a variety."

But the grant application has not gone through without drawing the ire of a portion of town residents.  Town resident Dave Graves, who also serves as president of the Canada Lake Protective Association, says many are worried about possible restrictions through the parks grant that would prevent some kinds of development.

"The community is not real clear on what the restrictions will be and when somebody says "Hey, we can get a $500,000 grant from the state,' a lot people say 'oh yeah, let's go for it.' But if it’s restrictive, I think a lot of people are really concerned that it would lock things and it wouldn't really create an economic opportunity for new restaurants, maybe motels, little shops and such," said Graves.

Ottuso disagrees.

"It's really not as hands-tying as people like to think. And like I said, there's a group of people that are against it. They've been against the acquisition of Sherman's from the start. Then they're against the grant. They've been doing everything they could to stop the whole process. But I believe it's a minority, not the majority."

Price says regardless of political tensions within the town, he still would like to speak about his idea with Ottuso.

"So at least I have a better understanding of what's going on as well, either from his side or from each person's side, because a lot of people have been very open, but one person that seems to not want be in contact, but I wish he would be, would be Ralph."

Ottuso said he wanted to make sure everything was in place with the acquisition before speaking with Price.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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