Spruce Mountain documentary shows it is possible to ‘move a mountain’

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George Baston fuels the Oliver tractor at the base of the original Spruce Mountain in 1958.

George Baston and Frank Austin stand alongside the rope tow motor at the top of the original Spruce Mountain in 1958. 

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As a teenager, Rick Groleau was looking at a map of his hometown of Jay. There was no listing of a Spruce Mountain near the banks of the Androscoggin River where he skied each winter.

As he scanned the map, he finally located Spruce Mountain — a few miles away from where it should have been.

“That didn’t make sense to me so I kind of investigated,” Groleau said.

What Groleau found became the basis nearly 40 years later for his documentary film, “The Town That Moved a Mountain,” which will premiere Saturday at the Emerge Film Festival.

The documentary tells the story of the creation of Spruce Mountain ski area in 1958 in the outskirts of Jay and how the residents then “moved the mountain” two years later to its present location across the river from the paper mill.

People in town soon forgot about the original ski area.

“Most of the people I knew didn’t even know about it,” Groleau said. “I even went to the old Spruce Mountain and saw what was left of the rope tow and the warming hut. Ever since then, I wanted to do something about this.”

The people who built the original ski Spruce Mountain hadn’t forgotten. A few years ago, Groleau filmed an interview with Bill Mitchell, one of the founders. Mitchell provided him with a list of names of others involved in the creation who were still alive.

The documentary tells the history of Spruce Mountain through interviews of more than a dozen people, who recount tales of hard work and hardships to turn a forested mountain into a place to ski. Using old photographs and movies, the story comes alive. Two years later, residents moved the ski area closer to town on land donated by a local farmer near the Androscoggin River. They kept the original name.

The new location was a success as the hill became and still is a community gem.

Ironically, the summit of the original Spruce Mountain can clearly be seen from the top of the new Spruce Mountain.

One of the biggest surprises Groleau learned while working on the project was the story by Jeff Meserve about competing at the NCAA Championships in the 1970s in Colorado. Of 21 skiers in the race, four of them learned to ski at Spruce Mountain.

The movie poster features a painting by Bonnie Austin of her son skiing that hung in the original warming hut and later at the new site. The painting is now on display at the Ski Depot in Jay.

“The Town That Moved A Mountain” will be Groleau’s third film to be shown at the Emerge Film Festival. Groleau, who shoots videos for Harvard Medical School, is hoping to get his 53-minute film entered in a few more festivals and perhaps a future spot on public television.

“It’s a fun story and I hope people are entertained,” Groleau said.

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