SKOWHEGAN — Eaton Mountain experienced an optimistic opening and a disheartening closing in 2019, but a new foundation has stepped in with local support and a plan to engage the students of the local charter school to revive the recreation area and turn it into a year-round operation.

The Eaton Mountain Foundation, which is seeking approval of its application for nonprofit status and is associated with the Community Regional Charter School, has entered into a long-term lease with David Beers, who owns Eaton Mountain.

“Over the last five years I have been seeking the right partner to develop Eaton Mountain Ski Area,” Beers wrote in a statement released to the news media.

“I am extremely excited to be partnering with the Eaton Mountain Foundation and the Community Regional Charter School to operate and develop the ski area. I can’t imagine a more ideal partner to have.”

The Eaton Mountain Foundation announced students from the Community Regional Charter School, formerly Cornville Community School, will be contracted to transform Eaton Mountain into a four-season recreation area.

The students’ involvement in the project is part of the foundation’s educational and economical purpose in developing the currently underused site and provides an experience-based learning opportunity for the students and affordable recreational activities for area families.

Travis Works, executive director of Community Regional Charter School, said in an interview Tuesday the partnership was sealed in June, when the nonprofit, Beers and a local lawyer reviewed logistics and visions. The lease agreement is for up to 20 years and outlines different phases in the relationship.

“We’re pretty excited,” Works said, “It’s a great opportunity for our learners that can partake in it.”

Trees and vegetation grow last week around the T-bar lift at left and the double chair lift, right, at Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan. Eaton Mountain Foundation is working with students at the Community Regional Charter School to develop a business plan to revamp the facilities and turn the property into a four-season recreation area. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Beers has owned Eaton Mountain since 2008. He and his family have been rebuilding the resort, which opened in 1961, to make it an affordable, family-friendly ski area.

Late last fall, he announced the mountain would be closed for the 2019-20 winter season, citing “several personal and business-related challenges” that he needed to address, including a family situation involving his son in Ohio and the minimum wage increase.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eaton Mountain Snow Tubing & Beginner Ski Slope will remain closed through the 2020-21 winter season.

The Community Regional Charter School is Maine’s first charter school and serves more than 360 students — from prekindergarten through grade  12 — from more than 20 communities in central Maine.

Works said 165 students will return to the classrooms Monday in grades seven through 12 at Overman Academy in Skowhegan. School officials said they will see who is interested in working on the Eaton Mountain project.

Works estimated 20 to 30 students will be part of the collaborative effort. The project will take years to accomplish, and as students move on, new ones will have the opportunity to join the foundation and assist.

Ski and snowboarding equipment line the shelves last week at Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan. Travis Works, director of the Community Regional Charter School is shown at right. The Eaton Mountain Foundation is working with the students at the school to develop a business plan to revamp the facilities and make the property a four-season recreation area. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

These students will be the first group to participate in the school’s Outdoor Recreation Business Management program, which focuses on all aspects of running a four-season recreational facility.

The school’s multiyear outreach program has four steps. Students will survey the community to assess its needs. From there, they will develop a sustainable business plan for five, 10 and 15 years.

They will be tasked to identify sources of funding and pitch the project to local, state and federal organizations. They will turn over their findings and proposal to execute the plan to the Eaton Mountain Foundation.

The foundation is in the process of filing to become a registered nonprofit. Once it attains that status, the door to grants and funding will open.

One of the major fixes needed at Eaton Mountain, Works said, is a revamped ski ramp, which will cost less than $1 million.

Beers will act as a landlord, Works said, and will provide input, although the foundation will spearhead the effort.

A groomer sits last week at Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan. The Eaton Mountain Foundation is working with students at the Community Regional Charter School to develop a business plan to revamp the facilities and make the property a four-season recreation area. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“Although it’s easy to see the untapped potential at Eaton Mountain, operating a ski area is an unusual and difficult business,” Beers said. “This group has the energy, access to resources, community presence, ski industry contacts and relevant ski industry experience that will be necessary to bring Eaton Mountain to its full potential in a solid and realistic manner.”

And come next summer, Works said, a camp will be offered and run through the entire season.

“(Eaton Mountain) needs some tender loving care,” Works said. “Our big primary goal is getting that lift to the top. I have a good network of folks that do fundraising, and I’m leaning on that team.”

Works said the Eaton Mountain Foundation has hired an experienced ski mountain manager to run the operation, while working alongside students on the Outdoor Recreation Business Management program, beginning in July 2021.

The manager, he said, will take care of the mountain, while also providing teaching opportunities to students and employees.

Works said students will also focus on providing local food options at the lodge.

“When looking at food in the lodge, we want to have farm-to-table offerings rather than fast food and pub/ski mountain options,” he said. “Kids are going to work with local businesses and restaurants to see what we can do to provide those options to families at affordable prices.

“We want this to be affordable for all walks of life. We don’t want to make income or money a deterrent for families. I think we’re in a really good place being in Skowhegan.”

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