SARATOGA SPRINGS —Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Jill Johnson VanKuren has worked in the role for just over a year, and on Tuesday, she reflected on her first 365 days in the Spa City among other topics as part of the ‘Serving Saratoga’ series hosted at Caffè Lena.
The series is a collaboration between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, and was hosted by Caffè Lena executive director Sarah Craig. The event also touched on topics such as current issues in healthcare, and the mindset of managing and collaborating with a team.
During the conversation, VanKuren said her first year in the role has been “wonderful,” noting her past roles helped prepare her for a position as CEO. She also discussed Saratoga Hospital’s affiliation with Albany Med, which she said allows the hospital more opportunities to offer and expand services in the community.
“We’re strategic partners, but we maintain our independence,” VanKuren said of the partnership. “So it keeps our focus on community needs, but we have the partnership with Albany Med to add activity to this community. We are able to bring more specialists, where, as an independent, we wouldn’t be able to hire some of those providers. We are purchasing and installing an electronic medical record together, which is an extremely difficult and expensive endeavor that we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own.”
She said this model provides strong benefits for the hospital, noting that partnering with other area hospitals allows their focus to remain local.
VanKuren also made note of some of the struggles currently facing the healthcare industry, saying that Saratoga Hospital is dealing with many of the same issues faced by hospitals across the country.
“We are suffering from a negative bottom line, just like every other healthcare institution in the nation right now. So there is that fear, ‘Can we continue to do what we’re doing as we are losing money?’” VanKuren said at the event. “That is difficult. I think we do have a way forward. It’s going to be, probably another year until I think we can get back above that line to profitability, but it will take some sacrifice, some change.”
She said the hospital is looking to focus on what services the local area may need moving forward.
“It’s challenging to think of our facility not being, at least, breaking even or profitable, because that’s not something that’s really happened before,” VanKuren told Saratoga Today. “... So, looking at a way forward, a lot of the things we talk about are, ‘What does this community need into the future?’”
She mentioned services for those who wish to age in place, as well as optimizing the hospital’s staffing and supply chain. VanKuren noted they had been working to expand outpatient and ambulatory services in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a sudden shift back to more inpatient demand.
“So we had to go from really focusing on ambulatory development to going back to being a jam-packed inpatient hospital again,” VanKuren told Saratoga Today. “But now the pendulum’s coming the other way, so we need to shift our focus to that ambulatory network, and continue that service.”
She also noted during the event that she has felt embraced in the community since arriving, saying Saratoga Springs is “unique.” VanKuren said that it is meaningful to hear from people who have utilized the hospital’s services.
“Your best day and your worst day can be the same day in a hospital, so it always gives me such a sense of pride listening to the stories,” VanKuren said during the event. “And it’s always about how we made you feel. Not just about the healthcare we provided, but the staff and their connection with you and your family. That is the most important thing, and I think that is what makes Saratoga Hospital unique and special.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga County Business-to-Business Expo is moving to a new setting this year, to be hosted at the Gideon Putnam in the Saratoga Spa State Park on Thursday, Oct. 12.
Hosted by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the expo will run from 3:30 to 6 p.m., and is expected to attract exhibitors from a wide range of fields and industries. Chamber president Todd Shimkus said it is one of the largest business-to-business networking events in the region annually.
“This is one of our signature events,” Shimkus said. “This is one of those events that a lot of people look forward to.”
Shimkus noted that exhibitors range from fields such as healthcare, food service, retail, professional services, and much more, saying, “It’s really all over the map.”
Around 100 exhibitors are expected at this year’s event. Shimkus also noted they expect roughly “a few hundred” attendees who will visit the Expo for its plentiful networking opportunities.
“Whether you’re an exhibitor, or an attendee, everybody is there to network, so it’s not like you have to sell,” said Shimkus. “People want to learn about the different businesses that are there. They’re looking to find people that they can purchase other goods and services from locally. They’re looking for partnership opportunities. They’re looking for collaborative promotions that might be done in the future. This is really about building a community of businesses for the benefit of everyone.”
A post-expo mixer will also be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m., according to a press release from the Chamber.
The Business-to-Business Expo is free for all to attend with a business card, with the release encouraging attendees to register in advance. Shimkus also noted the new location at the Gideon Putnam allows for tabletop displays, which he said can be easier and less expensive for businesses to set up.
“It’s an opportunity for us to lower the cost for people to participate, and to try a great, historic venue, and hopefully get a few more small businesses than we’ve had in the past,” said Shimkus.
“There’s no items there for consumers to come and buy,” he added. “This is really about businesses trying to partner with, and learn about, other businesses in the community.”
More information on the 2023 Saratoga County Business-to-Business Expo is available at saratoga.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Fall Fun Day, an annual fundraiser by The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, returns Oct. 14 at Pitney Meadows Community Farm, celebrating the fall season with activities, food, live music, animals, and more.
The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, offering fall-themed activities such as hayrides with a horse-drawn carriage, sheep shearing, pumpkin painting, and more. Waldorf School assistant administrator Danielle Arenas said Fall Fun Day is “an all-around fun time for the whole family.”
“The fall festival really is one of the most long-standing events that Waldorf has done,” said Arenas. “Our staff will be there, we get a lot of volunteers as well from families. Different parents come, alumni. It’s events that they have gone to in the past, and they enjoy coming back.”
Other activities will include an apple press, drum circle, live music, food vendors, and more, Arenas said.
“We’re going to have a hay jump, a couple different craft tables led by our teachers here at Waldorf,” Arenas said. “We are also going to be having a hay ride. … We’re going to have Seth and the Moody Melix for music. We’ve got a couple different food options as well.”
Entry for adults is $5, and $3 for children, while those aged 2 and under are admitted for free, according to a press release, which also states some of the attractions offered at Fall Fun Day are ticketed.
Funds raised will support Waldorf’s tuition assistance program, the release states, while Arenas also said that funds benefit the school’s early childhood programs and lower grades.
“We did, just this past year, open up our early childhood program on Lake Avenue,” said Arenas. “So proceeds really are going to go to benefit building up the lower grades.”
More information on Fall Fun Day can be found at waldorfsaratoga.org/events. Arenas emphasized Fall Fun Day is “a community event,” providing fall activities for families in Saratoga and beyond.
“We want it to be a community event,” Arenas said. “We definitely want it to be, not just for Waldorf, but for everybody.”
BURNT HILLS — Early on a Sunday morning, the fields at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School were packed, a result of the growth seen by the Mohawk Youth Field Hockey League since its inception in 2011.
Sponsored by the Mohawk Field Hockey Club, the Mohawk Youth League was started by Saratoga varsity field hockey head coach Jo-Anne Hostig, BH-BL varsity coach Kelly Vrooman, and then-Shenendehowa varsity coach Jeanne Frevola. Over a decade after its beginnings, the league has grown tremendously, providing more opportunities in the sport for athletes across the area.
“It is awesome,” said Hostig at the Play Day hosted by BH-BL. “It’s getting the sticks into their hands sooner, and it’s getting them to have fun, and getting them to learn about working as a team. It’s been a nice thing.”
The youth league is hosting four ‘Play Days’ throughout the fall, each hosted by a different school district. Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa, and Johnstown also have hosted or will host a ‘Play Day’ this year.
The days are exactly what the name suggests, providing numerous opportunities for athletes and teams to compete in scrimmages. The Mohawk Youth League’s ‘Play Days’ offers a division for fifth and sixth-graders, and a division for third and fourth grade.
In its initial year, the youth league had 11 teams, said Hostig. This year, there are nearly 40 teams from a variety of area schools. In addition to Saratoga Springs, BH-BL, Shen, and Johnstown, the youth league also includes teams from districts such as Bethlehem, Shaker, Guilderland, Hoosick Falls, South Glens Falls, Scotia-Glenville, Gloversville, and more.
The fifth/sixth division played on the turf at BH-BL’s Centennial Field, while the younger division played on the adjacent grass fields. Each team plays four 20-minute games during a ‘Play Day’, Hostig said.
“Most teams probably have, like, ten (players) on a team,” Hostig said. “So they sub in and out for the 20 minutes.”
Hostig said the upper division had over 20 teams, and the lower division had 18. The Saratoga program brought five teams to the ‘Play Day’ at Burnt Hills, with Hostig noting the league has had a strong impact on area varsity programs, including the Blue Streaks.
“So for the youth coming into it, it used to be that they were kind of beginning. Now, it’s like they’re continuing on,” Hostig said. “Almost all the teams that are here, their impact for their school program is helping them tremendously. It’s already having the sticks in their hands, it’s already knowing what patterns are, what offense and defense is. It’s helping our field hockey program in the area, in general.”
The SSHS field hockey program is strong in numbers, with nearly 50 players in total. The program currently has two modified teams, with Hostig saying that likely over half of the players on each of those teams came through the youth league.
“It definitely is helping us,” said Hostig. “It’s transferring now into it. They’re staying with our sport.”
She also noted that many athletes from the various high schools also assist with the Play Days, including serving as referees for the scrimmages.
“We’re trying to have them give back and learn, and make our sport grow more,” said Hostig.
Another impactful aspect for Hostig is watching her former players grow through the years, and advance to the next level. This includes Lindsey Frank, who Hostig said played in the youth league’s inaugural season, and is currently playing at Northwestern University.
Frank transferred to Northwestern after four years at the University of Richmond, where she twice led the team in points, according to the Northwestern Athletics site. Hostig also taught Frank in elementary school, she said.
“I knew she was just an athlete,” Hostig said. “She got into fourth grade, and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m starting a youth program and you’re in.’ … Now she’s in her last year, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way since then.’”
Another such player is Kelsey Briddell, who played at UAlbany and eventually joined the U.S. National Women’s Field Hockey team.
Hostig said the field hockey community is tight-knit, noting many area teams have shown support for Saratoga field hockey alum Olivia Allen, a 2023 graduate who was diagnosed with cancer in June, according to a GoFundMe page in support of Allen and her family. Several area teams have given gifts, while other teams have worn ribbons in their hair during a game in support, Hostig said.
“It’s been really nice to see that,” said Hostig.
Burnt Hills’ Play Day also included a stand raising money for a ‘Stick It to Cancer’ fundraiser with the American Cancer Society. Saratoga will host its annual ‘Pink Game’ on Oct. 6 against Shenendehowa, with this year’s game raising money in support of Allen, said Hostig.
Again emphasizing the community connection around the sport, Hostig also mentioned that several of her former players have eventually returned to help with the program, including JV head coach Marissa Folts, varsity assistant Sara Marshall, JV volunteer coach Kylie Folts, and modified volunteer coach Jen Allen.
“We all know each other,” said Hostig of the area field hockey community. “It’s a sense of family, and a sense of community, that we’re building and encouraging.”
LAS VEGAS, NV — Two members of the Alliance NEBJJ team, part of the larger Saratoga Academy of Martial Arts at Ndakinna Education Center, came up big at the 2023 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas.
Kristen LeClair won a gold medal in the Master 4 Blue Belt Light-Feather division, while Dan Ladd earned a bronze medal in the Master 1 Brown Belt Ultra-Heavy division.
The event was part of the larger Jiu-Jitsu CON, which gathered 11,000 attendees in total, becoming the largest jiu-jitsu event in history, according to a press release from IBJJF.
LeClair said the experience was “crazy.”
“That whole experience was really cool,” LeClair said. “Just the atmosphere was really energetic, and really cool to be there. That many mats lined up, and that many people competing, it was awesome.”
“It was truly an eye-opening experience,” Ladd added. “Especially the magnitude of talent that was there. Being a new brown (belt), I felt like I didn’t belong, but this whole tournament was eye-opening. … It was probably the best thing I’ve ever been around in a grappling sense.”
The World Masters are world championships for ages 30 and up, said Jim Bruchac, Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts head instructor. Ladd, a brown belt, competed in the Master 1 division (ages 30-35), while LeClair, a blue belt at the time, competed in Master 4 (ages 45-50).
While LeClair’s division was small in numbers, it had no shortage of competition, including Angela Christene May, who entered the tournament ranked #1 in the division worldwide, Bruchac said.
LeClair advanced to the championship with a dominant 26-0 win in the semifinals, and beat Laura Elizabeth Kotcher 5-0 in the championship match to earn her gold medal. With the gold medal finish, she became the top-ranked competitor in her division worldwide, said Bruchac.
LeClair also did not allow an opponent to record even a single point against her between both the World Masters and the New York International Open, which was held in August, Bruchac said. In addition to the gold, she earned another prize, receiving a promotion to purple belt following the victory.
“We were going to schedule to test her,” said Bruchac. “Usually, Alliance, we test people. We have international curriculum, certain criteria for each rank.”
However, after the victory, LeClair received her purple belt at a celebration with fellow team members.
“I ended up doing the whole speech about how we’re testing people at the end of the month, and Alliance has these standards, we need to meet certain things for rank,” Bruchac said. “And obviously, we’re not going to test you unless you’re ready. And then I basically just said, ‘Sometimes, winning the Worlds is test enough.’”
Making the victory even more impressive was the fact that LeClair entered the tournament with a broken toe, which she said was taped.
Photo provided by Jim Bruchac.
For Ladd, he had been a purple belt for several years, but was promoted to brown belt roughly two and a half months before the World Masters, Bruchac said. Entering the tournament, he had not competed at an IBJJF tournament since he was a blue belt, a level below purple.
Ladd won his first match, 5-0, and earned a 6-4 victory in his second matchup. And while Ladd lost in the semifinals, his loss came against Nsima Abasi Inyang, the eventual champion in his division.
Bruchac referred to it as “a good loss,” noting that Inyang submitted all of his opponents leading up to the finals, and that Ladd had been a brown belt for a much shorter time than many of his opponents.
“Some of these guys have been brown belts for years, too, and have competed a ton more,” Bruchac said.
But competing wasn’t Ladd’s only role at the tournament. He also coached LeClair, helping her earn her gold-medal finish.
“He’s an awesome coach,” LeClair said.
“Talk about karma,” added Bruchac. “He ended up getting his well-deserved bronze, and he coached her to gold.”
Ladd’s coaching role is just another example of the community aspect of the Alliance team and the Saratoga Academy as a whole. LeClair and her husband, Ryan, who also trains with Alliance NEBJJ, helped sponsor Ladd and pay for his travels to the tournament, Bruchac said.
“This place is a family. It really is,” said Ladd. “I have made lifelong connections here.”
While LeClair was dominant at the World Masters, she credited the victory to the team as a whole.
“This accomplishment is definitely part of this team,” said LeClair. “(We have) the greatest coaches, the greatest teammates. I’m usually the oldest and the smallest on the mat, and they know exactly how to test me and push me.”
Ladd said his bronze-medal finish came with a feeling of “validation.”
“I feel like I can compete with most people as long as I’m in a good mindframe. It doesn’t matter the rank,” Ladd said. “I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for (LeClair and Bruchac). Not only being there financially … but supporting me on and off the mat.”
Alliance, which consists of teams around the world, captured the male team championship overall at the World Masters for the second year in a row, said Bruchac, and finished second in the female team championship.
And though this year was the first appearance at World Masters for both athletes, Ladd said it will not be their last. Bruchac noted that 11-year-old Raymond Melancon IV also competed in Jiu-Jitsu CON’s youth division, coming just short of earning a medal. Bruchac said they hope to bring more youth division competitors to the event in future years, and added that the pair of medalists have inspired him to return to the event as well.
“Yeah, definitely going to go back next year,” LeClair added. “Hopefully we’ll bring a good team.”
“As a team, I think we’re just going to continue to do what we do,” Ladd said. “We have a curriculum here that is based for success and proven track record, not only with just us, but with the system itself. I think the tournament team next year will be tremendous improvement in the sense of size and skill.”
SCHUYLERVILLE — The Schuylerville varsity football team is off to a strong start in 2023, and has their sights set high. However, head coach John Bowen said the Black Horses are simply focused on “winning this day.”
After an appearance in the Section II Class C Championship in 2022, the Black Horses have stampeded out of the gates this season, earning wins in each of their first three games.
Schuylerville opened the year with a 34-32 victory over Fonda-Fultonville, earning a 40-0 victory over Cobleskill-Richmondville in Week One before moving to 3-0 with a 46-21 win over Johnstown last week.
In the season opener against Fonda, the Black Horses built a 20-0 lead before the Braves rallied back. Eventually trailing 32-27, a touchdown pass from Luke Sherman to Sam Dwyer proved to be the game winner for Schuylerville. Bowen said the season-opening win was “a good test for both our squads of what our kids are made of.”
“We were certainly happy with the boys’ resilience,” said Bowen of the Week Zero win. “I just was very happy with the way that our guys got up off the mat. We played very poorly at the back half of the fourth quarter, and Fonda certainly took advantage of big situations, and made big plays. We just had to find one more big play at the end of that game, and Luke Sherman and the rest of the crew, Sam Dwyer, just did a fantastic job of doing that.”
Bowen said the team has a strong group of returning players, including Sherman and Dwyer. He also made note of Martin Flanders, Jr., and three-year starters Landen Cumm, Chase DeLisle, and Josh Bowen.
“Martin is certainly going to be someone here at the end of the year that I think people are going to look back on and recognize how good of a season he had,” Bowen said. “(Landen is) going to be a guy that we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on there as well.”
The Black Horses have utilized a strong running attack thus far, with Bowen also highlighting the team’s offensive line, consisting of Drew Carpenter, DeLisle, Josh Merrill, Josh Bowen, and Sam Renner.
Bowen said the coaching staff has emphasized the “brotherhood” of the team, getting them to play for each other.
“It’s something that we’ve really tried to put an onus on,” said Bowen. “Getting out of that individualistic mindset, and really finding a larger cause, that being the brotherhood, and the team.”
And while Bowen acknowledged that a return to the Class C title game is a “long-term goal,” he said the Black Horses are just looking to take things day by day.
“We talk every day about winning this day,” Bowen said. “Today, we’re going to go out to practice, and that’s going to be our sole and primary focus, is winning today’s practice. If we put a whole bunch of those types of practices together, Friday nights are going to start to take care of themselves. And then whatever happens beyond the regular season … No matter what’s presented to us, we feel if we take that approach, we’ll be prepared for it.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — While Saratoga Springs has long been known as a tourism destination, it has not necessarily been due to the area’s cycling roads and trails. But a new event held by Bikeatoga and the Saratoga Regional YMCA is hoping to change that.
Bikeatoga and the YMCA are teaming up to host the first annual Saratoga Foliage Ride on Oct. 7 and 8. Three different routes are offered on each of the two days, at distances of 30, 50, and 75 miles.
Ed Lindner, advocacy chair of Bikeatoga, said that while the event is a fundraiser, it is also “an opportunity” to showcase the area’s cycling roads.
“Saratoga’s such a great draw in and of itself,” said Lindner. “People know the racetrack, they know SPAC, they know our award-winning downtown. But our cycling routes are a little bit of a secret, and so we hope to change that.”
Each day’s routes provide a unique experience for riders, beginning on Saturday, Oct. 7. Lindner noted this is the 246th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Saratoga, and said Saturday’s 50- and 75-mile routes will travel through the Saratoga National Historical Park, where a re-enactment will be taking place.
“So there will be re-enactors, Continentals and Redcoats, in the park firing off muskets and cannons as people ride through,” said Lindner.
A rest stop will be provided at the Saratoga Battle Monument on Saturday. Sunday’s routes will venture further east, including parts of the Empire State Trail and Champlain Canal Trail, with a rest stop to be provided at King Brothers Dairy in Schuylerville, said Lindner.
“That’s just a lot of really beautiful rolling hills, farmland,” Lindner said of the Sunday routes. He emphasized the rides are not races, with participants able to start and ride at their own pace.
Full SAG support will also be offered for riders. The Saratoga Foliage Ride will have volunteer support from the Saratoga Shredders Mountain Bike Club and members of local schools’ National Honor Societies. Sue Commanda, outgoing chair of the Saratoga YMCA and co-president of the Saratoga Cycling Club, added that the event is also seeking additional volunteers.
Commanda said the YMCA and Bikeatoga teaming up for the event was “a natural partnership.” She noted that the Saratoga Cycling Club also assisted with designing the routes for rides.
“The Y is all about healthy living, and very supportive of Saratoga events,” Commanda said. “Bikeatoga has beautiful programs as far as their bike programs, making sure everybody has a bike to ride. And the Y has a scholarship program that they’re supporting, because nobody’s turned away.”
Prior to the rides, which begin at the YMCA, a buffet breakfast catered by 9 Miles East will be offered at the Saratoga YMCA’s outdoor pavilion, Lindner said. Riders can sign up for $99 per day, or $149 for both days, according to the registration link. Participants will receive a day pass to the YMCA, as well as an event t-shirt. A jersey can also be purchased, which was designed by artist John Coleman of Glens Falls.
The Foliage Ride was inspired by a similar ride held in Staunton, Virginia, called the Shenandoah Fall Bike Festival, Lindner said. He noted the Saratoga Foliage Ride has seen registrations from states such as Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, and even as far as Florida.
“We really should be a cycling tourist destination,” said Lindner. “And we hope over the next couple of years to build this event into something like that.”
Proceeds raised by the event will support the YMCA’s financial assistance program, which provides scholarships for memberships and programs. Funds will also help support the Bikeatoga Workshop at St. Peter’s Church, which repairs donated bicycles and donates them back to members of the community.
Lindner said Bikeatoga donated more than 500 bikes to members of the community through the workshop last year. He said they are looking to have a successful inaugural event in hopes of growing the Saratoga Foliage Ride in future years.
“We love Saratoga. We really want to support the area in any way that we can,” Commanda added. “Bikeatoga does beautiful programs, and so does the Y, and they give back, which is wonderful … So seeing the event come together, but also sharing the beauty of Saratoga with other people from other states, is fun.”
More information on the Saratoga Foliage Ride is available at srymca.org/saratoga-foliage-ride.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Bridges’ 23rd annual Great Pumpkin Challenge returns on Sept. 30, helping to raise money for Saratoga Bridges’ programs and staff.
But for one family and their friends, the event is also a special opportunity for remembrance.
In 2002, Julie Niles and Mark Pitts lost their daughter, Nora Ann Pitts, to complications of mitochondrial disease just before her third birthday. Several years later, when Caroline, their oldest daughter, began showing an interest in 5K races, the family said they eventually discovered the Great Pumpkin Challenge.
In the years since, they have been joined by friends and family at the annual event, wearing bunny ears while they run or walk in remembrance of Nora. The bunny ears are a nod to a photo of Nora that they said is meaningful to them.
“More and more people wanted to be a part of it, our friends and family,” said Niles. “Some years, we might have 20-plus people running with the ears. It’s just become a really nice way, for our friends and family, one way that they show support for us and they remember Nora.”
Nora Ann Pitts. Her parents Julie Niles and Mark Pitts, along with friends and family, participate in the Great Pumpkin Challenge each year while wearing bunny ears as a nod to this photo of Nora (Photo provided by Julie Niles and Mark Pitts).
They credited their friend, Paige Allen, for the idea of running and walking with the bunny ears. The event also typically falls close to Nora’s birthday, Oct. 25, although this year’s event was moved to an earlier date due to construction in the State Park, said Pamela Polacsek, Development and Foundation Director of Saratoga Bridges.
In addition to honoring and remembering Nora, the team’s participation also supports Saratoga Bridges.
“Given Nora’s condition, she passed away from complications of mitochondrial disease. It was a disease that took little pieces away from her,” Pitts said. “She was getting physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. It kind of parallels what Saratoga Bridges offers. Had she survived, she probably would’ve been a part of this community.”
Pitts and Niles also have a son, Murdock. They credited their friends and family for their support, including Allen, who they said has helped organize the team through the years.
“It’s really been our friends and family that have kept it going,” said Niles. “It isn’t driven by us, but we, of course, are really happy to participate.”
They noted that friends and family have traveled from all over to participate through the years, including from Boston as well as states such as Virginia and New Hampshire.
Others who have experienced losses have also been included in the group, Niles said.
“We’ve kind of incorporated other people who’ve had losses at the same time, and try to remember them as we walk,” Niles said.
While many participating in the race do so in costume to celebrate the Halloween season, Pitts, Niles, and their friends and family can be spotted throughout the crowd of participants by the bunny ears they wear.
“It’s a good atmosphere at the race,” Niles said. “It’s a very simple costume, but you have people spread throughout the race. You see clumps of us here and there.”
“We have the bunny ears on for one purpose, and everybody else is dressed up for Halloween,” added Pitts. “Occasionally, we’ve had people that have asked, ‘What’s up?’”
Beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, the Great Pumpkin Challenge offers both a 5K and 10K, as well as a Kids’ Fun Run. The events are NET-chip timed, and begin at the Columbia Pavilion in the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Prizes are awarded to the top three male and female finishers. The event also includes costume and pumpkin contests, as well as giveaways, food, and refreshments, according to a press release.
Registration is $30, and available at saratogabridges.org. Online registration will close at 5 p.m. on Sept. 26. In-person registration will be offered Sept. 29 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., at 16 Saratoga Bridges Blvd in Ballston Spa.
A virtual option is also offered for $30. Funds raised by the Great Pumpkin Challenge support Saratoga Bridges’ underfunded or unfunded programs and activities, such as the Creative Endeavors Arts Center, in addition to supporting staff, said Polacsek.
Pitts and Niles said their group has also grown along with the Great Pumpkin Challenge through the years, with Niles saying it has now become “this big community of friends.”
“It’s so needed in the community,” said Niles of Saratoga Bridges’ programs. “We’re just so blessed to have a great circle of friends and family that support us, and the whole of Saratoga Bridges.”
BALLSTON LAKE — Originally established in 1948, this year marks Lakeside Farms’ 75th anniversary as a family-run business.
Lakeside was founded by Robert Pearce, along with his wife Agnes and son Dick, their website states. The family began making apple cider with a screw-driven press originally built in 1878, said Jeffrey Pearce, who is part of the third generation of the Pearce family to run the business.
Today, Lakeside includes a country store, restaurant, apple barn, gift shop, event space, and more, with Pearce saying Lakeside is “like 11 businesses all wrapped in one.”
“My grandfather always told me, ‘You put out a good product for a good, fair price, they’ll come knocking on your door,’” said Pearce. “I’ve always kept it that way.”
Pearce said he has been working at Lakeside for almost 60 of its 75 years, beginning as a young child working under his father, Dick Pearce.
“I just started to work, and my father gave me things to do at eight years old,” said Pearce. “I just worked up from there.”
The Pearce family moved Lakeside’s country store to the property’s carriage barn in the early 1960s, Pearce said.
“My grandparents started the cider mill, and put in a little store down back behind the store that’s already here,” Pearce said. “As we got bigger, we moved to the carriage barn, which is where it’s at right now.”
Today, Jeffrey Pearce operates the farm with his brother, Richie. Jeffrey’s wife, Denise, also works at Lakeside, while Jeffrey and Richie’s sister, Lisa Martin, works part-time at the farm.
In addition to their apple cider, Lakeside Farms includes a country store that offers a wide variety of products, such as fruits, vegetables, maple syrup, penny candy, and more. The country store also includes a deli, a bakery, and restaurant, roasting their own meat and selling a variety of burgers and sandwiches, and other products including bread, baked goods, and eggs.
The farm’s restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, and they offer a wide selection of apples, apple cider, and apple cider donuts from their apple barn.
Lakeside also includes Ye Olde Farmhouse Gift Shoppe, a farmhouse built in 1851, Pearce said, that was converted into a shop offering an assortment of gifts, decorations, clothing, jewelry, candles, and more, many of which are locally or American-made.
Lakeside served 130,000 people in nine months last year, Pearce said. He noted their apple barn has recently opened for the fall season. The apple barn and gift shop will remain open through Dec. 24, while the remainder of the property will remain open through Nov. 26, according to Denise Pearce.
While Pearce acknowledged it is demanding work, putting in up to 90 or 100 hours a week, he also said it is fulfilling, and said he has “been treated very well.”
“Yesterday I got up at 3:00, and got home last night at 5:30,” Pearce said. “It’s a long day, but when you get to see what you’ve accomplished during the day, you smile.”
He also added that, “The business runs you, you don’t run it.”
“Sit back, look, and listen, and the business will tell you what has to be done,” said Pearce. “You work it, but it tells you what has to be done.”
Through the years, Pearce said that in addition to family and employees, the farm has also received help from friends and neighbors, such as Lee Davenport, who Pearce said worked for Lakeside roughly 20 years ago and still returns to assist the Pearce family and their employees.
“He went out on his own, and he comes back and helps me,” Pearce said. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Pearce gave credit to the farm’s employees, saying, “They put their heart and soul into it.”
“If you’ve got people that are positive with you, I’ve got a few people that are, it makes it a lot easier,” said Pearce. “It’s nice to have people that love your business as much as you do.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A temporary special use permit application for Saratoga Cannabis Co., what could be Saratoga Springs’ first licensed recreational cannabis dispensary, was approved by the City of Saratoga Springs Planning Board at their meeting on Thursday, Sep. 7.
The temporary permit comes with several conditions from the Planning Board, including a queuing and striping plan for pedestrian safety. The temporary permit will be issued for a period of 12 months, the Planning Board said, at which point the company’s ownership group, consisting of Jody Cracco, Brittany Cracco, and Marcy Leventhal, will have to re-apply for a permanent special use permit.
Plans for the dispensary, which will be located in the West Hill Plaza on West Ave, were initially filed under the name Reverie Dispensary, but the group recently changed the name to Saratoga Cannabis Co., said Brittany Cracco. The Cracco family also owns and operates Dairy Haus and Doggy Playcare, both located in Wilton.
Plans presented to the board at the Sep. 7 meeting detailed several sales methods in addition to standard physical sales, including a digital queuing system that will use an app allowing customers to wait in their vehicles and receive a notification when their order can be picked up, according to the filed plans.
The dispensary plans to operate from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the Craccos said.
Jody Cracco said the 12-month temporary permit will allow the group to observe what business looks like at the dispensary during all four seasons.
“I’m glad they gave us the 12 months too, because we want to know what every season looks like,” said Jody Cracco. “That is the reason why we have the team that we have. We have the experience on our team. They’ve been here before, in many states, many times.”
The Cracco’s partner, Marcy Leventhal, has been in the cannabis industry for over 20 years, and has worked in the field across 22 different states, she told Saratoga Today in July.
Brittany Cracco said the group is “grateful” to receive the approval from the City.
“The town wants what’s best, and they want to be safe and cover all their bases, and that’s what we want to do too,” Brittany Cracco said. “This is a new use coming. It’s a new thing altogether that, like they said in there, nobody really knows what it looks like, and compliance is really big with us. … So the fact that they were really open-minded in allowing this, we’re grateful.”
But while they have received Planning Board approval, the group said they are still unsure when they will be able to open due to uncertainties surrounding a lawsuit filed against the State. According to a CBS News report, the State is currently blocked from processing licenses as a result of the suit, but can issue exemptions to applicants that meet the qualifications.
Each license will be re-examined on a “case-by-case basis,” said Jody Cracco.
“Basically as to how far along in the process that you are,” Brittany Cracco added. “So they will give us the go-ahead to keep going.”
The ownership group stated their goal is to be prepared to open “as soon as possible.”
“We aren’t going to linger, let’s just put it that way,” Jody Cracco said. “A number of things will take place while we are waiting, and that is getting everything in place so that when we get the go-ahead, everything then starts moving as quickly as possible.”