The department presented information about Mt. Crescent during the County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Tuesday, outlining park attendance, FY23 financials, and the impact County ownership of the facility has had on the local economy. The detailed message began with Conservation staff expressing the long-term vision that guided the decision to purchase the 106-acre property last year.
Out of 99 counties in Iowa, Pottawattamie County is the second largest county geographically and has the tenth largest population in the state, yet the County ranks 83rd in the number of public areas offered and 45th in the number of acres of public land.
“Since the early 1990’s we’ve had a goal to protect and preserve as much of the globally significant Loess Hills as possible, more specifically, the land surrounding Hitchcock Nature Center,” said Chad Graeve, Natural Resource Specialist for Pottawattamie County Conservation. “We’ve been able to expand those efforts, while having the added benefit of improving outdoor recreation opportunities.”
Ski season at Mt. Crescent ran from December 21, 2022, to March 12, 2023. According to officials, the amount of interest from visitors exceeded expectations, despite being one of the driest winters in recent memory. With snowfall totals well below the annual County average, 2022 pre-season sales at Mt. Crescent were higher than any year dating back to at least 2016.
“The over $200,000 in pre-season sales, told us that even before we opened our doors, the public was gaining trust in the County owning and operating Mt. Crescent Ski Area,” said Jeff Franco, Deputy Director of Pottawattamie County Conservation. “That energy continued throughout the entire ski season. We’re very pleased with how things went in our first year,” said Franco.
In 57 days of operation, Mt. Crescent expenses totaled $642,814. Revenue more than doubled the expenses, bringing in $1,376,513. Revenue over expenses at closing was $691,025. With total operating expenses, including full-time employee salaries and benefits, and insurance for the property, total profit of the 22-23 season was $469,048.
“We understand there has been interest from our citizens on the return on investment of this property,” said Mitch Kay, Chief Financial Officer for Pottawattamie County. “Some of the conservation efforts may be hard to quantify in monetary returns, but a first-year return on Mt. Crescent of over 25% of the $1.84 million investment is outstanding.”
According to data presented, ten percent of the revenue from the 22-23 ski season came from Pottawattamie County residents. The remaining ninety percent was produced by visitors from outside the county, signifying Mt. Crescent plays a significant role in local tourism opportunities.
“The economic impact of having a popular attraction for visitors over the winter months can’t be over-stated,” said Mark Eckman, Executive Director of the Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Knowing how the County runs its parks, we had high expectations coming into year one, and we supported that by offering our first-ever winter tourism guide for visitors. We’re elated by the response.”
Businesses in Crescent reportedly experienced dramatic increases in sales this past winter, with owners crediting Pottawattamie County’s managing of Mt. Crescent as the leading cause. Some businesses expressed increases of 15-20% in sales. Others adjusted operating hours to meet the demand of customers coming to and from the ski area.
“It’s very clear that this tourist destination (Mt. Crescent) contributes not only to the benefit of Pottawattamie County residents, but also to people coming in from outside the area and bringing their dollars with them,” said Brenda Mainwaring, President, and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation. “When all of us, collectively, start contributing to the wellbeing of our community, we make this county a place where people love to live.”
Tuesday’s presentation also included remarks from long-time ski instructor, Denny Schaeppi, and Steve Lindeman, the son of former Mt. Crescent owner Russ Lindeman. Both expressed excitement for the positive changes Pottawattamie County ownership has brought to Mt. Crescent.
Changes may continue in the long-term for the operation as well. Thanks in part to funding from the Iowa West Foundation, which also supported the original acquisition of the property, Pottawattamie County has hired a development firm to explore future potential of the recreation area. Vermont-based SE Group offers what officials tab as “elite experience” in multi-season recreation planning, opening the door for Mt. Crescent to be a year-round regional destination.
“With the early success we’ve experienced, we feel it’s best to explore all possibilities for the future of Mt. Crescent,” said Franco. “We owe it to our residents to make sure we’re maximizing our offerings, and we’ve hired some of the best in the industry to help us look into that.”
About Pottawattamie County Conservation: Pottawattamie County Conservation promotes an appreciation for Iowa's unique natural areas through year-round environmental education programming, natural resource management, habitat restoration, as well as many recreational activities at six county parks. Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, or just want to learn something new, Pottawattamie County Conservation offers exceptional opportunities to experience and explore the outdoors. www.pottconservation.comNext Blog
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