Efforts launched to save Black Mountain ski area

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Roger Arsenault, president of Black Mountain of Maine's board of directors, explains Thursday night to more than 100 people the past events that led to the Rumford ski area's alpine operations being closed by its owner on Wednesday morning.

RUMFORD — The chief executive officer of a problem-solving company has launched an online fund to raise money for the Black Mountain ski area.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Brian Gagnon

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

While Roger Arsenault, president of Black Mountain of Maine's board of directors, listens at left Thursday night, Rumford businessman and Selectman Brad Adley and Diane Perry tell the crowd that Franklin Savings Bank is working out details to provide matching funds to any money raised through donations to save the Rumford ski area. Perry is the bank's Rumford branch manager and overall vice president.

Brian Gagnon, CEO of Boston-based BMG Partners, launched the "Friends of Black Mountain of Maine Fund" at www.crowdrise.com/bmom. "Crowdrise" is an online fundraising platform.

The owner of Black Mountain announced Wednesday it was closing the facility's alpine mountain because of a funding crisis. By a vote of 497-939, townspeople on June 11 defeated an initiated article that requested $51,000 to fund Black Mountain as a recreational resource. The money was to help carry the ski area through the summer, get it ready for winter and pay wages for three employees.

Gagnon said Thursday his business "adopted" the ski area as its featured charity. By 6 p.m., 5 percent of the fund's goal of raising $55,000 had been raised through donations.

"Black Mountain has been an important part of my family for the past 33 years, and now the next generation is on skis enjoying the family experience it brings," Gagnon said. "In 13 minutes, using the power of the Internet, we raised $2,300 towards Black Mountain and that number continues to grow. The town of Rumford may not see how beneficial Black Mountain is, but I feel that others will step up for this worthy cause."

On Wednesday, Andy Shepard, Maine Winter Sports Center president and chief executive officer, announced that the center had closed Black Mountain's alpine venue. The nonprofit center, which has owned the nonprofit Rumford ski hill since 2003, is now contemplating what to do about its Nordic center.

"Several years ago, we took on the challenge of turning Black Mountain around with an understanding that we needed strong community support to make the economics work," Shepard said. "I know the mountain still has a lot of support within some sectors, but the electorate told us clearly that there are other priorities and we absolutely respect that."

Also on Wednesday, a Black Mountain supporter launched a Facebook site called "Friends of Black Mountain of Maine."

On Thursday, Shepard created another fundraising effort, the Black Mountain of Maine Fund at www.gofundme.com/3eyo8c using the Internet fundraising platform "gofundme.com."

Shepard's site has a $100,000 goal. By 6 p.m. Thursday, it had raised $2,675.

The growing rally to save Black Mountain continued 30 minutes later on Thursday evening as many in the crowd of about 120 people brainstormed additional fundraising ideas.

"Each year, Black Mountain has been running in the red," said Roger Arsenault, president of Black Mountains' board of directors.

"The MWSC has owned this mountain for 10 years now and they've invested more than $9 million in this facility as a gift to the community and all they asked in return was support from the community," he said.

Arsenault said the ski area had an annual loss of $195,000, which the Maine Winter Sports Center quietly funded as it invested in capital improvements. Now, the economy has caught up to the center, which operates solely on grants from the Libra Foundation.

"This year, everything was looking very good," Arsenault said. "We went from $200,000-plus to about a $180,000 loss, which had to do with some of the expansion at the mountain and cost overruns."

He said this year, Black Mountain was going to project an $85,000 loss, and then two years from today, move into profitability.

But uncertainty hit Maine with state revenue-sharing threatened and the Rumford paper mill's survivability in question, and the need to reduce taxes to help.

"And we lost the community support and community partnership, so that was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back," Arsenault said.

That sent Black Mountain into the red by more than $130,000 this year, counting the projected $85,000 loss.

Arsenault said MWSC has decided to cease operations at all of its alpine facilities, which means it's closing Big Rock and Black Mountain.

But supporters have stepped up financially.

Arsenault mentioned Gagnon's and Shepard's fundraisers, and said that any money raised to help the mountain operate would be placed into an escrow account. If the mountain fails to open this winter, the money will be returned.

He said that because Black Mountain cannot be run by a for-profit business because of its past arrangements, Shepard has 30 days to find a nonprofit to take over its operations. During that time, he's made money available to help the ski area's employees.

Rumford resident Len Greaney asked whether Black Mountain could remain open if $150,000 were raised.

"We budgeted to have an $85,000 loss, so if we raised $150,000, we could run the business as a nonprofit ourselves," Arsenault said. "But, if the weather goes south and we have a $200,000 loss, we're done."

He added, "Closing is not an option. We've got to do something to save this mountain for this community."

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Henry Leduc, 6, of Rumford emptied his wallet of allowance money on Thursday night, making the first public donation to help save Black Mountain of Maine ski area during a meeting about the mountain's future after its owner closed its alpine operation on Wednesday. Black Mountain's manager Jim Carter, at right, accepted the boy's $4 and change, which Leduc's sisters matched. Leduc's mother, Jennifer, is in the background after being overcome with emotion at the gesture.

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

ME launched to save Black Mountain ski area . .

Mainers, Friday . .4:30 pm hst ?
Make it in to a protected area like the White Mountain National forest ( i.e., Wildcat MT ski area , NH ) hth ? http://www.nelsap.org /s, Dr. Dosh

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

How much is the mill giving

What about Walmart?

Steve  Dosh's picture

. .. L O L Eric ? Target •

. .. L O L Eric ? Target • /s Steve http://www.nelsap.org

THOMAS FALLON 's picture

Donate to Black Mountain...

As a citizen concerned about the Rumford town budget, I support voluntary donations to Black Mountain. I will myself donate.

Richard Greene's picture

Thank you Tom

In case anyone would like to help keep Black Mountain economic value to the area and as a way of life and , here is the link.
http://www.gofundme.com/3eyo8c

Steve Bulger's picture

Worthwhile Effort

Hopefully, those who grew up in the River Valley will read this article and join many people who have already donated through the link you have listed. It is a simple, quick and easy way to donate to a cause that provides not only recreational activities to the area, but also economic stimulus to local businesses. I encourage all current and former residents of the area to look into their hearts and dig into their wallets to donate to the effort to keep open Black Mountain of Maine.

THOMAS FALLON 's picture

Posted the link...

you have here on my Facebook page to encourage others do donate after I myself donated.

We can find a way to do things.

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