RANGELEY — Organizers of a newly formed partnership of nonprofits encouraged those attending a public meeting in Rangeley Wednesday “to take a leap of faith” by helping the group raise $4 million toward the purchase of Saddleback Mountain, the first step in the group’s vision to make the ski area community-owned.

“I’m here to get you all excited,” said Peter Stein, chairman of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation. “We wouldn’t come here until we had a real, vetted-out plan.”

The Saddleback Mountain Foundation announced last week that they had reached an agreement with Saddleback’s current owners, Bill and Irene Berry, to purchase the mountain’s 723-acre core ski area for $6 million. The foundation was formed by Rangeley businesses and season-pass holders after Saddleback, Maine’s third largest ski area sat idle last winter.

About 100 people turned out to the informational meeting held by the foundation in Rangeley Wednesday night, to learn more about the group’s plan to acquire Saddleback and make it a viable asset for the future of the community. A careful excitement filled the Rangeley Lakes Regional School gymnasium, as those in attendance expressed hope for success but pressed for specific answers about what the operations and ownership of the mountain would look like if the Saddleback Mountain Foundation’s plan was successful.

“I want to be excited, as I think everybody else does here about the mountain. But I’m very cynical in nature,” attendee Chad Nickerson said. “For me as an investor, as someone that is interested in the longevity of the mountain, I would be interested to see some historical (Saddleback financial) numbers against a backdrop of what you and your team is forecasting going forward.

With an overall $25 million capital campaign, the first step in the foundation’s financial plan is to raise $4 million, which would cover the $2.2 million the foundation would need as a down-payment to the Berrys at closing, along with an additional $1.8 million to cover the starting operations of the mountain. While the foundation has reached a verbal agreement with the Berrys to purchase the core ski area, exclusivity will not be gained until a $500,000 deposit is made, meaning the Berrys could still talk with other prospective buyers.

While there is no deadline for when the money needs to be raised, Stein said the urgency is in getting the mountain operating again so they can begin working on investing in the mountain and working toward becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Stein is confident that the $4 million will not take long to raise, given that they received $5 million in pledges when they surveyed the community for interest this summer.

Those who contribute to the capital campaign will receive lifetime memberships to the mountain, Stein said. If the Saddleback Mountain Foundation’s purchase is successful, the mountain would likely be a private ski area for its first season while the group worked to make capital improvements that would allow the mountain to open to the public. Those with memberships, and their guests, would be allowed to ski the mountain during the privatized period. Stein and another Saddleback Mountain Foundation member, Steve Philbrick, told Wednesday’s crowd that they did not want to promise that the mountain would be open for the 2016-2017 ski season, stating that focusing on long-term sustainability is more important than one season.

In addition to the $4 million that needs to be raised, the plan also is contingent on the fulfillment of an agreement between the Berrys and the Trust for Public Land, along with the New England Forestry Foundation, to purchase 3,249 acres around the ski area to preserve for conservation.

Wolfe Tone, Maine state director for the Trust for Public Land, said Wednesday that a purchase price has not yet been reached, but stressed that there is viable interest in purchasing the land that abuts the ski area for conservation.

While Stein said there is no carbon-copy example for what the foundation is trying to do with Saddleback, he said the uniqueness of the plan reflects the uniqueness of the relationship between the Rangeley community and Saddleback.

With minimal snow accumulation keeping snowmobilers at bay last winter and Saddleback remaining closed, Rangeley suffered through last season.

Philbrick said having the community own the mountain, rather than having a sole owner, would ensure that in 20 years, the mountain would still be a viable cog in the local economy.

In 2003, the Berrys bought Saddleback and 8,000 acres surrounding it. Over the course of their ownership, they invested $40 million in improvements. In July 2015, the Berrys announced that they would not open for the winter season unless they secured $3 million for a new chairlift. In the fall of 2015, they announced that they were in negotiations with a buyer, but a sale was not successful and the mountain has since sat idle.

For more information about Saddleback, visit skisaddlebackme.com.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate