It’s no surprise that some Salmon River regulars are a little uncomfortable about a new lodge charging Manhattan-style room rates and roping off one side of a popular pool for its guests.
After all, the Salmon River is a blue-collar fishery where anglers endure miserable weather and almost comical overcrowding in hopes of catching a salmon or a steelhead trout.
It’s a little galling to think of someone spending upwards of $200 a night to sleep in Altmar when you’ve just driven three hours in pre-dawn sleet to get there, or slept on a cot in a local bunkhouse. And now one side of Schoolhouse Pool is off-limits?
A Syracuse development company is turning the now-closed Altmar Elementary School, for which Schoolhouse Pool is named, into the Tailwater Lodge — 42 rooms, with a bar and restaurant in the school’s old gym and future plans for cabins and a conference center on the property.
The hotel will probably charge an introductory rate of $189 when it opens, an executive of the developer, Woodbine Group, told the Post-Standard. (I haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone from Woodbine to find out when that will be, but Tailwater’s placeholder website says fall 2013.)
The property includes 1,700 feet of Salmon River shoreline, and only Tailwater guests may use it, director of business development Tom Fernandez told the paper.
Of course, Tailwater is the second property on the Salmon River where fishing is restricted to paying customers. The Douglaston Salmon Run, near the river’s mouth where the fish are fresh and bright, charges $50 for a daily pass and won the right to forbid fishing from a boat in a famous court case in 1997.
Rich guys parachuting in and chasing all the Regular Joes off the popular pools? A slippery slope to a pay-to-play river that’s out of reach of the working man?
No, probably not.
For one thing, there are already Salmon River anglers staying in high-end rooms — at another Woodbine property, the Genesee Grande Hotel, 40 miles down Interstate 81.
The company realized those guests would appreciate a comparable experience where the water was a two-minute walk away rather than a 40-minute drive.
As for Schoolhouse Pool: Yes, some people like to fish it from the south shore (Tailwater’s side), but most approach it from the north, and they’ll continue to be able to do so.
Unlike Douglaston, anglers and guides in drift boats will be free to fish the pool the same way they always have.
There’s really no reason to worry about copycat lodges springing up along the river and chasing away the regulars. The Department of Environmental Conservation has secured permanent public fishing rights along almost the entire river on one side or the other, often both.
The elementary school property was an exception. Had the opportunity to offer guests a small stretch of private water not existed, who knows if the project would have made business sense at all.
Access to most of the Salmon River is great, and that’s not going to change.
The Tailwater project will bring jobs and tax revenue to a region that needs both.
And the developer deserves credit for repurposing a handsome old public building. Woodbine has a history of this kind of work, having built classy apartments for Syracuse University students in a former armory and the ritzy, environmentally friendly Hotel Skyler in a former synagogue.
So it’s hard to imagine Tailwater Lodge having any negative impact on the Salmon River experience, except maybe to stir a little envy in those of us of modest means.
Then again, it doesn’t matter where you slept the night before. The weather, the river and the fish treat all anglers the same.