Opinion

The ski mountain is critical to the growth of the Moosehead region’s economy

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The Moosehead Lake region is world famous. Tourism, recreation and craftsmanship are all vital to the future economy of Greenville and Maine’s North Woods. In this region, businesses and investors seeking a serene location find an unspoiled landscape where opportunities abound.

The Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Corporation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 2013 to focus on the economic development of this area. We work tirelessly to grow and sustain local businesses, attract and create new jobs and enhance the economy here.

Why do we do this? Because it’s more necessary now than ever. Piscataquis County recently became Maine’s poorest county. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, about one resident in five in Piscataquis County lives in poverty, the highest rate of any county in Maine.

To change this trend, we must be proactive, and leverage our region’s unique character, heritage and spectacular natural resources. One of the key assets in the Moosehead region that offers a fantastic opportunity to help support the growth of our regional economy is the ski area on Big Moose Mountain. For those of us of are who are familiar with the ski area, it offers one of the most spectacular skiing experiences in the East.

From 1974 to 1986, the state of Maine owned the ski resort on what was then known as Big Squaw Mountain, now known as Big Moose Mountain. Recognizing that private ownership should provide a greater opportunity to raise more capital and improve the resort’s outdated infrastructure, the state sold the land and the resort for well below market value. The state also wisely placed requirements on the deed to assure that the ski trails and lifts would continue to operate, and that necessary investments and improvements would be made in order to keep the resort viable for generations to come.

Moosehead Mountain Resort, Inc. purchased the Big Squaw properties in 1995, subject to these deed requirements. Soon afterwards the resort fell into neglect and disrepair, with the landowner failing to maintain, let alone improve, the resort and its infrastructure. In fact, the entire resort was closed to the public for a period starting in 2010. In addition, the main lift to the top of the mountain, the main lodge and hotel are all abandoned and in a serious state of disrepair. Fortunately, for the past several years, a local non-profit organization have been operating the lower portion of the mountain for the benefit of the local citizens.

If this were a typical, privately-held resort, these circumstances would be unfortunate. But this particular property has been endowed by the state of Maine with a public purpose. And, so, the circumstances here are tragic. And the victims in this case are those of us who live, work and play in Piscataquis County.

In the face of these circumstances, the state of Maine and the Attorney General, filed a lawsuit in 2016 stating that Moosehead Mountain Resort, Inc.’s “failure to invest, maintain, expand and operate the entire ski area and resort has had a devastating impact on the economy of Greenville and surrounding communities.” While there has been procedural wrangling in the courts to date, the state recently had a big win when the court refused to dismiss the lawsuit at Moosehead Mountain Resort, Inc.’s request and decided that the case has merit to proceed to an eventual trial. A trial could begin as early as later this year. We believe that this lawsuit provides perhaps the only concrete opportunity we will have to address the issue of the future of the mountain and reach a resolution that is in the best interest of the public.

We are hopeful that the court will ultimately order appropriate remediation to ensure that the mountain fulfills its public purpose moving forward. This could include requiring significant sums be reinvested in the property by the current owner, by a new owner following a sale, or an order requiring the property be returned to the state.

Over the years, we understand that prospective buyers have shown interest in realizing the full possibilities of the mountain by turning it into an eco-destination for downhill and cross-country enthusiasts. Those plans may now have the opportunity to flourish, now that the state of Maine has stepped back in to assure its original intent is realized.

In the interim, we commend and support the amazing effort of the non-profit organization who is keeping a portion of the ski area open on a shoestring budget. Imagine what we could realize if we once again had a fully operational winter sports facility on that mountain?

We believe this mountain should once again serve as part of the “Crown Jewel” of the Moosehead region’s four-season outdoor experience and as a cornerstone of our local economy.

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