Community to buy Saddleback? Group tries to persuade potential donors

Rangeley residents respond to ownership proposal.

RANGELEY, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A group called the Saddleback Mountain Foundation is trying to bring an economic boost to an area that could use one -- by buying Saddleback Mountain Ski resort in Rangeley, in hopes of bringing back thousands of tourists who left with the closing of the slopes.

The group's plan is to have community members donate the 4 million dollars necessary to buy the mountain from its current owners, the Berry family, and reopen the mountain as a nonprofit.

The group held a Wednesday night packed town meeting tonight where the people with the plan spoke to their townspeople and potential donors.

“Saddleback is an integral part of our economic hub here in the range the Lakes region. Without that, we suffer greatly,” said business owner, Stephen Philbrick, who is also working on the Saddleback Foundation to buy the mountain.

He says Rangeley Lakes Region suffered an estimated loss of over 17 million dollars in revenue with Saddleback closed just last winter.

“Oh my goodness last winter this place was deserted,” said Peter Stein, the president of the Saddleback Foundation. “Absolutely deserted. You come down off the mountain and go to a restaurant. You would be the only one sitting in it. It was a complete devastation to the local economy last year.”

That's why a group of local business owners and dedicated skiers have come together to try to raise the money to buy back the mountain, reopen the resort, and operate it as a non-profit, with community members as shareholders.

They say this will be the key to bringing back a struggling community.

“Get it operational, get the people that are working, restaurants will thrive again,” explained Philbrick.

But now - it's up to convincing the local people...their potential donors.

The project will take over 12 million dollars to accomplish - but just to buy the mountain, the group is focusing all its attention on that first four million.

This has some people nervous, like Chad Nickerson, who is considering donating but fears that the group doesn’t have a new plan for long term success with the mountain. “I don't want to feel like we are financing a Band-Aid for some condo owners on a mountain,” he said. “We want to feel like we are financing the mountains long-term viability.

After getting his questions answered, he says he’s still a skeptic.

Others praised the work done so far, and the foundation's commitment to bringing life back to the area.

So what's next? Continuous fundraising in the hopes of raising that four million as soon as possible.

The group is hopeful to collect this money in time to open this coming ski season - but they say they won't consider it an "opening," but rather just getting the ski lifts turning.

They hope to have an official opening of operations for next ski season.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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