RUMFORD — Last July, efforts to save the Black Mountain of Maine ski area from closure received a big boost when officials from Bangor Savings Bank announced a matching $25,000 donation program.
At the ski lodge Thursday, the same bank officials celebrated that commitment, as well as celebrating that the local board of directors has established the ski area on independent footing.
Leading the celebration, which included a luncheon with local ski supporters, was Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president of Bangor Savings Bank, who was there with CEO Jim Conlon and other officials.
‘Last July, when the town budget failed and the Libra Foundation pulled out, subsidizing the deficits here, we were part of the effort to keep Black Mountain alive and sustain it. So we did a $25,000 challenge match as part of that fundraising. With our challenge, an extra $50,000 was raised towards their goal of $150,000,’ said Breen.
Since that time, he said they’ve been talking to Roger Arsenault (BMOM board chair) and Jim Carter (mountain manager) and the folks at Black Mountain as they got the transition and ownership and all that legal stuff taken of.
‘The critical thing for us is that there are just a handful of key assets in the region, and Black Mountain is one of them. It’s certainly a local community asset, a huge recreation asset, an incredible asset for the youth here, but it is also an important economic asset for the whole region,’ he said.
‘We don’t know where it’s going to go from here, but as far as continuing to attract major events and continuing to attract outside investment, continuing to be a part of the whole four season tourism economy here, it’s huge. There’s a lot of people from southern Maine coming up here,’ said Breen.
‘As a bank, you’re only as strong as the local economy that you operate at. If businesses and households are prospering, we’re prospering. It’s no more complex than that. So we have a vested interest in it. There’s just not a huge number of things you can make an investment in and feel like you can make a difference,’ he said, adding, ‘So this is somewhat a delayed celebration of that. We wanted to come, during ski season, when things were really humming, and when you could see it in all of its glory, and just celebrate with some of the folks that we worked with over the last six months.’
Breen noted that the first time the corporate headquarters in Bangor learned about the uniqueness of Black Mountain was the result of the bank’s program where the public is asked to vote on nonprofits to get funding.
‘When we first did this statewide five years ago, Chisholm Ski Club mounted a write-in campaign and got 1,200 votes, which was more than most organizations that were on this ballot had ever gotten. And we said ‘Who ta heck is this Chisholm Ski Club?’ and we found out they were the one running the Nordic ski programs here,’ he said.
That same year, Breen and Conlon came to Black Mountain and met some of the mountain’s board of directors and that ‘folks were really trying to leverage this asset, to make things happen. They were trying to get a hotel interested in coming here, etc,’ said Breen.
He said it was then BSB became aware of ‘just how energized the grassroots of this community is and how involved the community is in this place. That’s pretty unique.’
Will there be another challenge?
‘I hope we don’t have to, at least in the immediate sense. There’s always going to be capital investment needs in a place like this, and I know the board is working hard about how to bite those off gradually,’ said Breen.
‘One of the biggest fears was ‘well, what if we managed to solve this equasion for the first year and then we have one or two really lousy winters,’ then we’re right back at square one. So I’m hoping we have a really great February and March that can help the mountain,’ he said.
In talking with Rumford BSB manager Greg Gagne, Breen asked, ‘What is plan B? What if we all really but then there’s one or two bad years and we’re just right back here. Is this just going to be throwing good money after bad. And Greg said, ‘Look, one way or another, the community is going to keep this thing going. The form of it may evolve, if it has other challenges again in the future, but it’s just too much a part of the fabric of this community for people to ever let go of this place. We’re not going to regret being a part of pulling this off, no matter where it goes from here.” ‘We have some partnerships with some other places, such as Camden Snowbowl, which is part of the town’s recreational program, so we’ve helped them with some program needs recently,’ said Breen, adding that they also have a strong relationship with Shawnee Peak in Bridgton.
‘What’s fairly unique here is that there’s probably only a handful of other places in Maine that are really community assets, as opposed to a private enterprise. That helps make this place distinct and it just has such a grassroots commitment, along with the history,’ he said.
‘There’s some areas where a ski hill is valuable and important, but if it went away, the impact of the local economy probably would not be that significant. But here, it’s tremendous,’ noted Breen. ‘This is a mutual celebration of all the sweat equity that folks locally have put in here, a reaffirmation of our commitment and how happy we are to have been part of that.’