When Darryll White and his wife were approaching the end of their lease at a rental in Sidney, they began searching for a home near the coast where they could enjoy their hobbies, including sea kayaking, and take in the views.

During his search for the ideal home, White came upon a video made by business owners around the state. He soon found he was fascinated by a certain town.

“It featured Skowhegan,” White said. “It was talking about how this community, like many others around the state, has suffered tremendously from the economic shift moving away from manufacturing and milling, and all of the problems that ensued.”

He said the video included five community members from Skowhegan who shared stories of how they have made commitments to their community.

“I’m just very impressed with the talent, the energy and the emotional commitment to a community-based cause,” White said.

He and his wife met with business owners in town and eventually moved to Skowhegan.

“We decided to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “It was different than our goal of living on a lake, but part of our decision was to move here and to be involved.”

After settling in, White interviewed for the position of chief administrator of Lake George Regional Park. Prior to that, White accumulated 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in the urban bicycle tourism field.

When he became chief administrator of Lake George Regional Park, White realized the organization had financial concerns. Because it receives no funding from the state, Lake George Corp. is responsible for the park’s support and fiscal health.

One of his goals when stepping into the position has become raising funds for the revitalization of the buildings at the park to create a stream of revenue to help sustain the park itself.

Another of his goals was to collaborate with other organizations to combine strengths. He has worked closely with Main Street Skowhegan and its emphasis on economic revitalization. Another

“Main Street Skowhegan has invested a lot more culturally (than other towns),” White said. “They are a foundation whose mission is to work with rural Maine communities in an effort to facilitate positive culture change based on recreation.”

“Being a leader is important to me,” White said. “I also put a lot of emphasis on the big picture in terms of long term.”

Two years after stepping into the position at Lake George, White said he has had the opportunity to look, listen and learn while rebuilding the foundation of the organization, which does not get state funding but receives support from Canaan and Skowhegan for summer camp programs.

As someone who is from “away,” White puts emphasis on maintaining the values and traditions of the area. Raised in New England, White says he understands the importance of family values and traditions.

“I look at things through the lens that was developed here in New England,” White said. “Most importantly is honoring the cultures and traditions because that’s where I come from.”

During the summer, Lake George Regional Park hosts Camp Podooc, which offers two two-week summer camp sessions for Canaan and Skowhegan elementary-age children. It was previously the home of Camp Modin. The park also hosts the Maine Garlic Festival and Somerset Snow Fest.

This summer, a new camp will be added for residents in grades six through eight. The Lake George Recreation Camp is being sponsored by Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, giving the camp opportunity to hire new staff members and bring more people to the facilities, where students will learn introductory skills, including those needed for mountain biking, paddling and hiking.

Those who use the park pay gate fees, group-use fees and rental fees, but White said the fees do not fully cover expenses, creating an annual deficit.

“The best way to close that (financial) gap is through fundraising,” White said.

Looking at Lake George West, which is the focus now, the Margaret Chase Smith Social Hall is in need of significant repairs and renovations, according to White.

The building, known for its fieldstone fireplace, has a cement floor that has a crack that runs from one side of the building to the other. There is a temporary structure in place to keep people away from the area.

“It’s unsightly and potentially takes away from the aesthetic of the facility and our ability to use that side of the facility,” White said.

When renovations are done, the cause of the crack will be resolved, the floor will be repaired, the wiring will be redone and better lighting, fans and ventilation will be added.

Additionally, White said he would like to add a wood stove system to extend the season for a couple of weeks.

Next door to the social hall is what was once used as a dance hall. Plans call for its renovation. Although the facility is not in disrepair, it will likely be repurposed as a catering kitchen and restroom area to support the social hall.

Next are five of the lakeside cabins, one of which is not used because the porch is coming off the building and needs complete refurbishing. The other cabins are in various states of disrepair, although they can be used.

Doing all of this would give Lake George Regional Park the potential to host weddings and rent the cabins to guests. For now, the rentals are well below market value because they need much work.

“The first step is to get the facilities back to a condition where they are at least at the market level,” White said. “Lake George is an absolutely fantastic location for a wedding; however, our facilities are rented out well below market rates because of their conditions.

“If we were to bring those facilities back to speed, we would be able to get near market rates, which would then generate income and help us meet the shortfall that we see on an annual basis.”

The needed repairs are estimated to cost about $200,000, according to White. Last fall, the Tree of Life Campaign was begun and has raised about $30,000 — $20,000 of which is earmarked for the social hall.

Additionally, the park has submitted a proposal to go before the town at the annual meeting in June, where White expects to request $30,000.

The park has also received $30,000 in tax increment financing, or TIF, funds from the Somerset County Commissioners and an anonymous $100,000 donation, putting it $10,000 from its fundraising goal.

Another key element, White said, is the park can now serve alcohol — within the confines of the states laws and regulations. Alcohol can be served at the park five times a year and currently is at its maximum, but through wedding event planners with catering licenses, it can still be served in the park in a controlled way.

“We can get started in the now and while the process is still taking place, we will continue to fundraise,” White said. “We hope that within a year, depending on how long the construction takes, that we can revitalize the west side and begin a new revenue stream for the park.”

“It comes down to the community, which is very special here,” White said. “The talent that’s here and the commitment and passion toward working together and facing the challenges that we have, we are very fortunate.”

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