GREENVILLE — A nearly full house greeted the Piscataquis County Commissioners in Greenville last week for a public hearing on a request to reopen Squaw Mountain Road for winter maintenance this year.
While county officials couldn’t make a decision at the meeting, it was apparent that the request had widespread support.
The county stopped plowing the road three years ago after Squaw Mountain owner Jim Confalone abruptly closed the ski area and didn’t reveal any plans to reopen it. But a group of volunteers known as the Friends of Squaw Mountain reopened the facility in February and plan to run it for the next two seasons, at least.
Friends of Squaw Mountain President Amy Lane of Rockwood recapped the story of Squaw Mountain’s rebirth, noting that it doesn’t have the location or amenities of other resorts. “There’s Sugarloaf, Saddleback and Sunday River; and Squaw Mountain is the fourth biggest after them,” Lane said. “But what makes us unique is that we’re in an unorganized territory. In addition, we’re rather isolated … there is very little development around us. But we also have an amazing attraction in the summer as well: Moosehead Lake.”
While development may be a sore point for some residents, Lane said that the high-end homes and ski chalets elsewhere in Maine “pay plenty of taxes and all those dollars go to the towns.”
The Friends of Squaw Mountain have already put a considerable amount of labor and cash into the operation, Lane added. “We had to fix the roof on the lodge. We had to raise money and put $11,000 in the lift. We had another $11,000 in insurance premiums one year. We had to lease a groomer for $21,000, put insurance on it and pay for fuel,” Lane said.
Noel Wohlforth, a volunteer with the Friends of Squaw Mountain who once worked for the commercial operation, said that ski areas rarely make money as a standalone business, “but they’re a boom for the whole community. I probably spoke to most of the business owners in town and they were so pleased with what we’ve done so far.”
Wohlforth added that the ski area’s plans for this year “are bigger than last year. But if we have the added expense of plowing that road, it’s going to take away from the other things that we need to do.”
Roger Currier, who operates a flight service in Greenville, echoed Wohlforth’s assessment that ski areas rarely make money by themselves. “Personally, I can’t see why the county wouldn’t have the responsibility to maintain that road. I can see why you discontinued plowing because of the fiasco up there and it wasn’t being upgraded,” Currier said.
“I personally agree with you,” said Fred Trask, chairman of the county commissioners.
Craig Watt, a Greenville selectman and general manager of Indian Hill Trading Post, also stated that businesses benefited from the mountain’s resurgence last year, and not just in Greenville. “Everywhere I go in the county, from Milo to wherever, people want to know what’s going on at Squaw Mountain. I think the Friends [of Squaw Mountain] are doing a tremendous thing for the county. I was on the bandwagon when things weren’t going well up there to stop it from being plowed; I’m on the bandwagon now to keep it plowed,” Watt said.
Scott Moulton, the general manager of Rowell’s Garage in Dover-Foxcroft, said that he used to see cars passing by his business “going to Bangor all winter. It’s nice to see them going north — coming from Bangor — for a change. Every person who drives by is an opportunity for every business.”
Commissioner James Annis said he was impressed by the turnout at the meeting. “If there is anything out there that will help the economic situation of the area, I’m for it,” Annis said. “If I could make a motion [to plow the road] now, I would.”
Commissioner Eric Ward, whose district includes Big Moose Township, said that he appreciates everything the volunteers have done, and also gets inquiries about the status of the mountain “almost everywhere I go.”
The public hearing was mandated because it required the same procedure to cease plowing it in 2010.
The final decision will be made at the Tuesday, Nov. 19, county commissioners’ meeting at the Bowerbank town hall.