October 27, 2016; Maine Public Radio
In the spirit of Vermont’s Mad River Glen, a community cooperative has emerged with a verbal deal and $6 million in hand to buy the Saddleback ski area, which has been closed since last year when the owners found they could not finance a new chairlift they believed was required to make the whole operation successful. This shuttering was a major blow to the Rangeley economy in that it eliminated between 80,000 and 100,000 skier visits a year, so local businesses and residents organized to reopen the resort.
Can it work? The foundation that holds the cooperative effort must raise another $4 million to secure the deal. “Opening in any fashion for the 2016-2017 season,” said Peter Stein, representing the group, “depends on how much we can raise and how fast. The good news is, it’s looking like a really snowy season.”
This deal has ties to another arrangement wherein the New England Forestry Foundation and the Trust For Public Land will buy 3,300 acres north of the resort to conserve forest ecosystems. By selling that land, the current owners of the resort get some latitude where they can consider how to most responsibly handle the disposition of the resort itself and the more than 700 acres it includes.
Wolfe Tone, the Trust for Public Land’s Maine director, is excited by the potential posed by the tripartite deal, saying, “We could help make the terms of a ski area purchase work for a community-centered conservation and economic development model. […] The Trust for Public Land is not in a position to buy the ski area. That’s not the plan. But we and our conservation partner, the New England Forestry Foundation, could well be one half of the solution.”
“Some ask what is driving this initiative, what is motivating this team to devote so much time,” Stein offers. “It is because we care deeply about the mountain, the Rangeley region and the state of Maine. And we know that Saddleback ending up as a community-owned resort would be a far better outcome than it being owned by those seeking financial gain. In our effort, all financial gains go back into the mountain for the public good. This initiative gives this gem of a mountain back to its loyal skiers and the greater Rangeley community and the state of Maine forever.”
Unfortunately, the cooperative is not the only suitor, but the others are not being as public about their intentions.—Ruth McCambridge