Community groups try, and fail, to reopen Sugar Loaf

Various community initiatives have tried, and failed, to re-open Sugar Loaf since the resort closed in 2000.

When owner Remo Polselli disappeared from public view and served prison time for federal tax evasion, local web developer Andy McFarlane tried to rally citizens to buy public shares of Sugar Loaf, but the ambitious project was ultimately stymied by the resort’s complex and mysterious ownership status.

Kate Wickstrom, who runs an addiction treatment center, acquired the ski hill in 2005 and held a public celebration one April afternoon at nearby Sugarfoot Saloon, drawing excited residents to pack the establishment. But Wickstrom lacked the financial wherewithal to reopen the resort.

That same year, Ed Fleis and other investors purchased the resort’s two golf courses, wastewater treatment plant and prime real estate to the west of the ski hill. But since then he has been unable to engineer a sale of the resort, or re-couple the properties.

After hotelier “Liko” Smith’s first bid for Sugar Loaf in 2010 failed, nearby Fountain Point resort owner Erik Zehender spearheaded a group that tried to convince Wickstrom to lease his group the mountain so they could offer cross-country skiing and ice climbing. This also fizzled.

This past fall, “Friends of Sugar Loaf” member Egan McGlynn tried to summon better karma to the mountain by planting a locally made “Peace Pole” next to the chairlift that looks east over Lake Leelanau. She said she hoped her move would lure the resort’s true owner out of the shadows. It only drew the attention of Smith, who has claimed repeatedly to be Sugar Loaf’s owner but was never able to provide proof. Smith asked McGlynn if she’d engrave the name of his dreamed development for the resort, “Rok at Sugar Loaf,” on the pole. McGlynn declined.

Meanwhile, rumors have abounded since 2010 that an investment group headed by David Skjaerlund from Owosso, Mich., may be interested in purchasing Sugar Loaf. Skjaerlund subtly made a play in late 2010 for several nearby townhouses and property. His past includes rural development projects, including a $100 million ethanol plant near Ithaca, Mich. Skjaerlund has adeptly avoided the kind of media attention that engulfs Liko Smith.

Today, locals who pine for their long shuttered ski resort continue to post nostalgic photos and memories on Facebook. Meanwhile, the chairlifts sit, immobile as statues.

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Thu, 02/27/2014 - 9:17am
The closed resort has served as an awesome venue for several USA Cycling road race events in the past few years. The Start/Finish line has been raised just outside the main building and the parking lots have served to host racers from all over the state who are readying for their road race. It has been great as a launching point for the road race "Cherry Rubaix" while racers ride the very challenging Leelanau peninsula hills.
Thu, 02/27/2014 - 12:48pm
I have fond memories of skiing at Sugar Loaf. It is a beautiful area with fantastic views of the lake. I remember being saddened of hearing of its closure. The bulk of our skiing did not occur there due to the extra distance getting there. However with the population growth in Traverse City, it would seem possible that with the right management, someone could make it work. The hotel & lodge are the key factors. They could be developed as a destination wedding venue. The other possibilities are endless. Wine tasting events, bike tours & races are just a few ideas that come to mind.