Big sledding memories will ride again as Tork’s Hill re-opens

— Photo by Brett Hotaling

Ready for sleds: Developer Eric Johnson, who grew up in New Scotland, uses a brush hog to do the initial clearing of the Tork’s Hill in preparation for sledding for the first time in 15 years. Johnson donated his time and labor. 

VOORHEESVILLEVoorheesville villagers who remember sledding down Tork’s Hill on Route 156 across from the firehouse years ago are excited to learn that it will be open again for winter festivities this year. 

Residents of the two homes on Dommorro Drive, which runs down alongside the hill, are less excited. 

For decades Tork’s Hill was a centerpiece of winter life in the village, with children and adults gathering on snowy days to glide down it on toboggans and sleds. Hill owner Dominick Tork — who owned the Mobil Station next to Smitty’s — would stand at the large front window of the home he built at 11 Domorro Dr. to watch villagers enjoy the property. 

After Dominick Tork died in 2000, his wife Ruth McGrath Tork, allowed the sledding to continue, but sledding stopped in about 2001, said Donna-Jean Feathers, Tork’s granddaughter. She said that the village stopped mowing it. She remembered too that her mother, who moved into 11 Dommorro Dr. after Ruth McGrath Tork’s death in 2003, was afraid of the liability and posted “no trespassing signs.” 

Until that time, the Torks had always allowed the sledding, and the village had maintained the hill. 

“We had no written contract, just a handshake and that was it,” said the late William Hotaling in 2003, when he was a village trustee, referring to the arrangement he had with Dominick Tork during the years when Hotaling was superintendent of public works. Also in 2003, then-mayor John Stevens said that the village was interested in trying to buy the hill. 

This year, the village has contracted to lease the hill for a fee of $100 for the year from current owners Donna Jean Tork and Donna-Jean Feathers, who are a daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of Dominick Tork.  

According to Feathers, the idea originated this year with the family. She said, “My aunt Donna Jean Tork and my mother, Joanne Tork Samsa, and I all now live in Florida. Last year, my mother, Joanne, gave me her half of the property. My aunt Donna Jean Tork owns the other half. I was up in New York in late June, saw the hill, and cried like a 6-year-old over the condition it was in. I had lunch with my husband and brother at Smitty’s, texted my cousin Bob VanDerVeer [Donna Jean Tork’s son] and said. "We're going to clear the hill" and it just got going. Bob reached out to Brett Hotaling. Then it got real.”

Memories

Feathers’s cousin Bob VanDerVeer, 48, now lives in Florida but grew up at 3 Dommorro Dr. in a house his parents built on land given them by his paternal grandfather. He said, “It’s probably one of the biggest memories of anybody who has ever been a resident of the village of Voorheesville — seeing kids sleigh-riding there, or taking their kids sleigh-riding, or sleigh-riding themselves.”  

He added that his grandfather had never been worried about liability. He said that he probably felt protected by the way that the hill was so beloved by villagers. VanDerVeer said, “I think he was of the mindset that, if somebody were to sue him and take away the hill, they were going to take away every kid’s dream and memory. And I wouldn’t want to live in the village if I were the one who had taken away Tork’s Hill.” 

Since the village is leasing the property, the village’s insurance will cover any liability, just as it does in the village’s parks, said village Trustee Brett Hotaling. 

Hotaling said that the village “hopes to look for some grant opportunities and hopefully buy the land from them next year. We couldn’t put a deal together right away this year.” 

Village Clerk-Treasurer Linda Pasquali said that Eric Johnson, who grew up in Voorheesville, donated his time doing the initial clearing of the hill. “We had offered to pay him a little bit, but he said he didn’t want to take any money for it,” Pasquali said. 

Johnson, who grew up in New Scotland and now works as a developer, wanted to donate his time, he said recently, because “we all used to go sleigh-riding there when I was a kid, in the late 1970s.” He thought it would be great, he added, if it “could be opened up again so that people today can enjoy it.”  

Concerns    

The two families that now live in the two houses on Dommorro Drive came to the village workshop meeting on Nov. 12 to express their apprehension about parking on their street, their loss of privacy, and potential property damage. 

The Tork family no longer owns the houses on Dommorro Drive. Robert Monaghan owns 11 Dommorro Dr., and Jessica and Tony Sardella own 3 Dommorro Dr.

During the workshop, Jessica Sardella said, “We did buy this property because it was so picturesque and so private, and now it’s not going to be for a few months out of the year.”

Tony Sardella said that he hoped visitors to the hill would be respectful of private property and that they would not leave trash behind and drive on lawns. He said, “We don’t want to be the killjoys who throw kids off the hill. If this is going to happen, it has to start out right.” He asked the board to be proactive about preventing problems. 

Monaghan said, “If there was ever a need for a fire truck or an ambulance [on the street], there’d be no way.” 

After the workshop, Sardella told The Enterprise, “They didn’t even check with the people it was directly going to impact, at least to give us the illusion that we would have any input.”  

Trustee Brett Hotaling said rules for sledders will be posted at the hill. He added that the village requests that people park at the firehouse or the elementary school, instead of at the top of the hill, “just to be courteous to the homeowners on Dommorro Drive.” 

VanDerVeer said that he understands the homeowners’ reservations, but that seeing kids having fun on the hill surely must be better than seeing it turned into a housing development or office space. 

He and the rest of the family just hope to be able to see the property “end up in the path he [Dominick Tork] hoped for.”

“That hill is the best sleigh-riding I’ve ever encountered in my life,” said VanDerVeer. “It is the best, it is open, it is fun, and nothing else can match it. It’s got the great view, too — you’re looking at the Helderberg mountains.” 

More New Scotland News

  • The village property tax rate is set to increase 2.25 percent next year, from about $1.32 per $1,000 of assessed value this year to approximately $1.36 per $1,000 next year. The entire village has an assessed value of about $264.5 million, of which about 92 percent is taxable, and is up from $262.5 million.

  • David Ague was arrested by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for unlawful surveillance after a staff member at Voorheesville Elementary School discovered a cellphone on April 9 that Ague allegedly planted in a staff bathroom in order to record people. 

  • Atlas Copco is seeking permission from the village of Voorheesville to build a six-story, 63,000-square-f00t addition to its current 101,000-square-foot facility.

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