It’s 2010 all over again in Rumford.
Three years ago, in a confusing three-option vote, the citizens of Rumford did not approve $51,000 in spending for the Black Mountain of Maine Ski Resort.
On June 11 this year, citizens again did not approve $51,700 in spending for mountain.
Three years ago, voters reconsidered the resort funding months after the original vote and passed the expenditure by a margin of 35 votes.
That will not be an option this year because, as a result of the 2010 funding reconsideration, voters adopted a change to the charter that disallows reconsideration of expenditures after failed votes.
In 2010, residents initially rejected the funding because they didn’t see the nonprofit ski mountain as being a critical asset for taxpayers, only for people who may visit the resort.
That was hard to believe then and harder to believe now given the accolades heaped on Black Mountain in recent years, and the recent sharp growth in skier visits.
In an effort to draw more visitors to the region, resort owner Maine Winter Sports Center recently added trails, lifts and increased snowmaking and, last year, reduced the cost of lift tickets to $15 per day, or $150 for a season pass.
That’s a tremendous value for single skiers and for families, especially when you consider the mountain offers championship-level Nordic trails, a tubing park, a terrain park with half pipe and night skiing on downhill slopes.
Skiers seeking a good value are making Rumford their destination and, according to MWSC CEO Andy Shepard, there was a 197 percent increase in skier visits last year, rentals were up 93 percent and lessons up 426 percent.
These statistics represent a tremendous increase in people visiting Rumford to ski, and to buy gas, dine in local restaurants and shop in local stores. If there were more motels, many would probably stay overnight.
The town has never done an economic impact study to analyze the benefits of skier spending, but it doesn’t take a financial genius to understand that when people come to town they spend money. And more people visiting Black Mountain means more people spending money in town.
This argument and worry about the ski resort’s value is hardly new.
In 1992, when the town, the Chisholm Ski Club and the Greater Rumford Community Center talked about adding a chairlift at the mountain, there was concern raised about the survival of the facility and its rising costs to taxpayers.
No marketing study was done at that time because, according to resident Roger Arsenault — who is now president of the Black Mountain board of directors — there was no money to fund it.
Resident Dan Warner argued for the town to continue its support of the resort, pointing out that events at Black Mountain generated money for the resort and the community, and the more events they could hold, the more interest would be generated in the mountain and in the community. Kind of like a snowball effect; build a solid facility, engage skier interest and get out of the way.
The town did that then, and Black Mountain has become home to the U.S. Cross Country Championship for the past several years, and draws world-class Nordic skiers to its trails, including hosting the USCSA National Nordic Championship in 2010 which, for comparison, was held in Sun Valley, Idaho, this year.
The mountain hosts dozens of high school meets and championships every year, it hosts Special Olympics events, is home to the annual Snowmobile Hill Climb and home to a successful ski coach training program, among many other things.
During the summer, the mountain offers day camps for children and teens, and people travel there to swim, bike and hike. The money rejected by Rumford voters would have paid for these summer programs, but without that funding the programs are now closed.
In 2005, Black Mountain of Maine was hailed as one of the largest economic investments in western Maine. At the time, Libra Foundation officials and members of the Maine Winter Sports Center’s board of directors praised the community for its willing financial partnership and thanked dozens of local tradesmen who donated their time and skills to help build trails and new buildings.
For decades, Black Mountain had been a community ski hill. In recent years, under the guidance of the MWSC, it has become a world-class ski center that draws thousands of people to Rumford who would otherwise never go there.
How voters could reject those visitor dollars is confounding, particularly when the town's annual cost to support the mountain would have been just $8.85 per resident.
Now, without $51,700 in public funding, MWSC announced Wednesday it would close the alpine mountain, effective immediately.
It has not yet made a decision on closing the Nordic trails, but expects to within the next several days.
Before that happens, and before Rumford faces any real possibility of fewer visitor dollars during the coming winter, something must be done to keep the mountain open, keep the skiers coming and keep the national championships on the schedule, whether through private donations or public fundraisers.
If not, and the mountain withers, Rumford will lose out on its growing “destination” reputation. And will be poorer for it.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.