GREENVILLE — For the first time in nearly three years, there’s plenty of activity at Big Squaw Mountain.
The Friends of Squaw Mountain, a nonprofit organization, has signed a lease with resort owner James Confalone to open the lower portion of the mountain. The one-year lease was for $1, according to Greenville real estate agent Rodney Folsom, who is the agent for Confalone.
“I knew that the landowner was willing to let an organization or a municipality run it,” said Amy Lane, president of The Friends of Squaw Mountain. “I was thinking over the past couple of winters: ‘Can’t a group of people come together just like our snowmobile clubs?’”
Lane formed the nonprofit group, which is composed of four board members, last February, she said, but the actual work on the property didn’t begin until last month.
“Once we got all that snow, I approached my team and said, ‘Are we in or are we out?’ And it was unanimous,” said Lane.
She said she hopes to open by Jan. 18 with eight intermediate and beginner level trails. There will be one operating chairlift.
Lane started “The Friends of Squaw Mountain” page on Facebook on Dec. 26, 2012. On Wednesday, the page had nearly 1,700 “likes.”
“People are like, ‘Wow, I wish I could be there in the nitty gritty helping spruce this place up, but I can’t, so I want to send you money,’” Lane said. “It’s been great to get these messages and the donations to help pull this off.”
In just two weeks, the organization has received donations or pledges for $18,000, said Lane.
“It’s been coming in from all over. I got a $20 donation from a gal in Tennessee and we received a $5,000 donation,” she said. In all, about 40 people have donated money, but there’s more coming in every day.
Instead of donating money, others have offered their skills and time. Because it’s the middle of winter, there aren’t many construction projects, said Lane. That has made many contractors available.
“They don’t have a lot of money, but they have time, so it’s awesome to see them all come forward and say, ‘How can I help?’’ Lane said, adding that between 50 and 60 people have volunteered their time to help restore the trails and lodge.
On Wednesday, the lodge was receiving a fresh coat of paint and a side room was being vacuumed. More than a dozen people were working on the property. Steve Lane, Amy’s husband, was operating a groomer donated for the day from the Blue Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club in Rockwood to groom the trails.
The site has come a long way since Amy Lane first opened the door to the lodge two weeks ago, she said.
“When I first got here there was no power, there was no water, there was no heat,” she said. “It was just what you’d imagine a 1960s ski lodge to look like that’s been closed up for two years. We have a leaking roof and a sagging ceiling. I said, ‘Boy, we really need some help.’”
Bill Fling of Greenville, a retired English teacher at Greenville High School, said he’s eager to help with the project and work in the kitchen.
“When Squaw Mountain was in its prime in the ’80s, they employed 300 people. You can imagine what that could do for the economy of Piscataquis and Somerset counties,” said Fling. “This is a little step in the right direction.”
“Other than what I do for my family members, this is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” said Fling. “It warms you to be a part of it. This mountain means a lot of things to a lot of people.”
For Noel Wohlforth of Greenville, seeing the project through is a bit of redemption.
“The reason for my helping get Squaw Mountain reopened is that I was the lift operator five or six years ago that had to shut down the big lift when we had the accident [on the upper trails],” said Wohlforth. “Unfortunately, [that lift] never got going again, and I sort of feel responsible being the last one to shut it down. I wanted to be the one to start … up [a lift] again.”
Wohlforth said about six years ago a chair with two passengers on an upper-trail ski lift fell to the ground, forcing him to shut down the lift. The upper trails will remain closed.
Amy Lane said the enthusiasm of other people has inspired her to work hard.
“It’s motivating and it makes me want to get up at 4 o’clock tomorrow morning and start it and stay up until 11 o’clock tomorrow night,” she said.
Field inspectors, chairlift cable inspectors and fire inspectors have signed off on the site, said Lane. Only an inspection on the lift by the insurance company, a load test on the lift and a health inspection of the snackbar are left to do. She said she hopes to have them all done by next week.
“Hypothetically, this can all be done next week if everything goes as smoothly as it has so far,” she said.
A board of directors meeting will be held Monday in order to set lift ticket prices. Lane asked those interested to check the Friends of Squaw Mountain website for updates.