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Snowkiting canceled in Lewis County; no one at helm to organize

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LOWVILLE — In the absence of Lewis County Recreational Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl, an event that has in years past brought hundreds of visitors to the county has been canceled.

Since 2007, people from around the country have flocked to the Tug Hill Plateau for an annual snowkiting event.

Mr. Diehl, who was suspended Nov. 13 following allegations of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct, organized the weekend-long gathering “as part of his job duties,” County Manager David H. Pendergast said.

Mr. Pendergast could not give any details about the cancellation, saying Mr. Diehl “did it in conjunction with the chamber” and directing questions to the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Executive Director Anne L. Merrill said that since Mr. Diehl’s suspension, the chamber made an unsuccessful attempt at continuing the event.

Mr. Diehl “had agreements with the farmers for land,” she said. “He had a relationship with them.”

Mass Kiting, a group out of Boston, Mass., was not able to establish permission for use, but it is looking at organizing the event in 2014.

Ridge View Lodge owner Tracey J. Miller said she hopes it will return. The event filled rooms at her Lowville motel.

“It was growing every year,” she said. “To try to rebuild it, it’s going to be difficult. It’s a letdown for everyone that counts on that revenue.”

Mrs. Miller was unaware the event had been called off until she received reservation cancellations. She had no idea there were any problems with this year’s schedule, but speculated volunteers could have helped keep the event afloat.

According to Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, however, that responsibility didn’t fall to volunteers.

“In my mind, it’s the county manager’s job,” he said.

Because Mr. Diehl is the sole employee in the recreational trails department, Mr. Lucas said, “in his absence, the county manager has to make sure that department functions. He did not do that.”

Mr. Diehl said he attempted to keep the snowkiting event alive this year, requesting access to his contacts from his office.

“I asked (Mr. Pendergast) before Christmas,” he said. Mr. Pendergast said he had to check with County Attorney Richard J. Graham, according to Mr. Diehl. “He never got back to me, so I took that as a no.”

Mr. Diehl hasn’t given up hope for an event this year. “I’m hoping to reschedule in February,” he said.

The county carries the insurance for the event and landowners “are still on board,” he said.

Mr. Lucas expressed concern that this event may be one of many to disappear. A dog sled race that was in the works is now off the table for this year.

“A big ripple effect is about to take place in his absence,” he said. “He was very instrumental in getting these events off the ground.”

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