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Mountain Resorts of the Past Earning a Second Life

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This weekend, if you're a city dweller, and you're looking for a quiet, secluded getaway, you couldn't get any more desolate than the East Coast Mountains. The drive is an easy one, possibly 2 or 3 hours out of New York City, Philadelphia, and other populated cities. On a Friday evening you'll make it up there in no time and, after making it through the gates of your favorite resort, you're in for nothing but peace and quiet whether you're in the lobby, your room, or a stone adorned hot tub. 60 years ago, this wasn't the case.

From just after the turn of the century through the 1960's, East Coast mountain resorts were bursting at the seams. From the Catskills to Mount Pocono, everyone wanted to drive away from their big city metropolis, eager for the fresh air of the country. The comfort of Adirondack furniture, buffets teeming with comfort food, and hours of planned family activity were just icing on the cake. You could expect miles of traffic backup on the way in, and a hefty wait to enter the gates of your resort of choice once you got up there.

To say that the last few decades have been hard on hotels like these would be accurate. With beach and cruise trips becoming more and more affordable, families now have a choice of staying in the city or leaving for the coast. Sunning down south has become an easy way for couples to spend a weekend, leaving behind the drive, the rustic hassle, and the city. The grand annual family summer stay is a thing of the past, a relic seen in Grandma's home movies or in Sunday matinee's of Dirty Dancing. With costs mounting up, weather, maintenance, and time have worn down on the resorts. The cozy Adirondack furniture is less shiny, the sheen gone with time. To understand the direction that family travel has taken, all Walt Disney World and Atlantis, you'd almost believe that these resorts are dead and down for the count. And to some degree, you'd be right.

Miles of bungalow colonies that once served as family summer camps in the Catskill heydays of the 1940's '50's, and '60's are now abandoned. Once dubbed the "Borscht Belt" because of the high number of Jewish visitors who flocked to the area at this time, these Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange County hotels were once regal escapes for city dwellers. Palaces in the woods, these grand resorts like The Pines and Tamarack Lodge hosted top-tier entertainers like Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar, served buffets worth of gourmet food, and offered 24-hours of engaging activity for everyone in the family. Grossinger's, the resort many considered the gem of the Borscht Belt and the premier mountain destination, is now abandoned, moss and plants growing through carpets, over pools, and around doorways that were once teeming with children. Only 40 years ago Grossinger's greeted 100,000 guests a year, then airfares became more accessible and a family of four could leave the car behind for a warm beach. The golden age of travel has left in its path a few lone mountain motels, a family resort or two, and a trail of corroding cottages.

Today, a little further down the East Coast, lights still shine in the windows of the larger resorts of the Pocono Mountains. Families still make the long drive up, lured in with a movie theatre and affordable indoor water parks, all-in-one activities to easily engage chatty city children. On any given summer weekend in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania, you can find myriads of sun-lovers laid out on the beach of the Split Rock Resort. Kids knee-deep in sand castles, adults crowding around tiki bars, enjoying frozen margarita's in plastic cups, the life here is nowhere near Catskill Borscht Belt glory days, but there is life. With wifi, three hot tubs, and Segway tours, Split Rock has come a long way since it's grand opening as the Split Rock Lodge in 1941, one of the last resorts to stake claim in the neighborhood ad it's willingness to adapt to the needs of it's guests has allowed it to remain a favorite, sold out many peak season weekends. The infamous Mount Airy Lodge, an 80's Pocono's Mecca, has taken this advice recently, as well. After shutting down as a poor relic, the love motel has turned casino and hopes to turn profits by luring in gamblers.

Gone are the days of Paul Anka and mirrored ceilings for the more utilitarian offerings of Internet and happy hour. Thrifty families come in droves to spend effortless quality time together. Eco-friendly young people and couples bunker down in natural setting and take leisurely hikes through the unexplored woods surrounding their cities. Whether it's this adaptation that will carry mountain resorts into the 21st century, or the popular vacation jaunts of yesterday are enduring their final wave of popularity, is questionable. But as long as there are new families itching to get to know each other better, and as long as there are people who still yearn for the fresh mountain air, these resorts have a fighting chance and may just outlive the glitz and glamor of weekend jet setting.