Bigelow Mountain Ski Area|
Dead River, Maine
Partially constructed in the 1960s and 1970s
Located north of the Saddleback and Sugarloaf ski areas, the first ski trail was cut on Bigelow Mountain by the 'Bigelow Boys' in 1948. Nearly four decades later, a massive development was planned for the range.
Touted as the "Aspen of the East," the Bigelow Mountain development would have been Maine's third ski area to reach a 4,000 foot peak. In addition to trails and lifts, a resort village and airport were also planned, totalling one quarter of a billion dollars. 3,200 jobs were expected to be created by the end of the development. Flagstaff Corp. owned 6,000 acres and planned to complete the development over the course of two decades.
In 1967, the Bigelow development was considered integral in Flagstaff, Maine's bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics. After viewing a Sel Hannah survey of possible sites (such as Glen Ellen, Vermont and Old Speck, Maine, the New England Governors Conference endorsed Bigelow Mountain on January 23, 1967. Maine Governor Kenneth Curtis ramped up promotion of the bid, suggesting it would only cost the state $5 million.
With a December 1, 1967 U.S. Olympic Committee deadline quickly approaching and financing not in place, Governor Curtis withdrew Maine's bid, suggesting that the resort development was still alive and that it could potentially throw its hat in the ring for the 1980 Olympics.
While the Flagstaff Corporation was able to build the $300,000 Flagstaff Lodge, it was unable to do much more. By 1973, the corporation claimed that it had $1.75 million tied up in the project, with carrying costs of $25,000 per year. While the group was hoping to proceed with development, major problems were brewing. In October of 1973, Sugarloaf's King Cummings, head of a state planning committee, appealed to the Legislature to halt mountain development in Maine, including Bigelow Mountain. Though the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission approved ski area plans on November 16, 1973, it reversed its decision ten days later, when it placed the the mountain in a protected zone. The Flagstaff Corporation subsequently filed a lawsuit, noting the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, despite blocking Bigelow Mountain plans, had approved an expansion at Sugarloaf.
Meanwhile, the "Friends of Bigelow" waged a campaign claiming the development would result in increase crime, higher taxes, increased cost of living, no trespassing signings, and that the jobs would be given to out of staters.
Unable to get zoning approval from the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, the Flagstaff Corporation found itself in trouble. While it offered to put up to 7,200 acres in protection or preservation status in exchange for development approval of 800 acres, the corporation could not get cooperation from the state. Financing for the project became harder to obtain in the fall of 1975 when Maine voters passed a referendum to create a land preserve.
In the spring of 1976, Maine voters passed a referendum to acquire the land, leading to the Bigelow Preserve Act. As a result, the ski area proposal was cancelled and the Bigelow Preserve created.
On August 1, 1978, the State of Maine announced it had paid $3,294,500 to the Flagstaff Corporation and Flagstaff Lodge Corp for 8,375 acres of land and the Flagstaff Lodge. $2,108,500 of the funds came from Federal taxpayers, while $1,186,000 came from Maine taxpayers.
The preserve is composed of 10,540 acres as of 2012.
1956 USGS Topographic Map
West Peak and northern slope as seen from Avery Peak (2010)
Avery Peak summit building (burned in early 2011) with Sugarloaf in the background (2010)
Northern slope off Avery Peak (2010)
The West Peak summit area (2010)
Northern slope off West Peak (2010)
Other than a small ski lodge, there are no known remains of the Bigelow Mountain Ski Area.
||Maine has an enormous ski resort at Bigelow to come, which will open some 3,000 acres of vacation land within yodeling distance of Sugarloaf, currently the Pine Tree State's largest development.
Hartford Courant, 1966
||The Maine complex bidding for the Winter Games is now being planned for an area near the Sugarloaf - Bigelow - Abraham Mountain region adjacent to the Franklin county towns of Farmington and Wilton, and the Rangeley Lakes and Flagstaff Lake section.
A city will be designed in the near future by the state to act as host.
Hartford Courant, 1967
||1976 Winter Olympics site? Map locates Flagstaff, Maine, mentioned as possible site for the 1976 Winter Olympics. New England Governors have agreed to support a State of Maine bid selection site by Olympic committee. A private developer plans a $12.5 million ski development in Bigelow mountain range next to man-made Flagstaff Lake.
Hartford Courant, 1967
||The group of Boston developers headed by John Marden already owned 6,000 acres of the mountain and had built a small lodge when the fight began. Envisioned was a $250 million project, including a resort village, downhill ski trails, condominiums and an airport, just down the road from Sugarloaf. Flagstaff Corp. said it would take 20 years to fully build out the resort and promised hundreds of year-round construction and service jobs. But all went down in flames, thanks to the opposition organized by Friends of Bigelow.
Phyllis Austin, 2001
||Ellicottville, New York, is known in skiing circles as the “Aspen of the East,” a resort town drawing hordes of skiers each winter. This nifty tourism-whore nickname, however, almost belonged to a mountain range in Maine: the pristine Bigelow Mountains, in the northwest of the state. Developers were hot for Bigelow back in the 1960s and ’70s; Flagstaff Corporation, from Massachusetts (where else?), wanted to turn it into one of the world’s largest ski resorts.
Jess Kilby, 2003
Austin, Phyllis. "A 25th anniversary celebration of the Bigelow Preserve." The Maine Times. 14 June 2001. 3 April 2009. http://www.meepi.org/files/mt061401.htm.
Bigelow Mountain (Avery Peak) - FranklinSites.com Hiking Guide
Bigelow Mountain (West Peak) - FranklinSites.com Hiking Guide
Carabassett History - Carabassett Valley
Kilby, Jess. "Bigelow or bust." The Portland Phoenix. 13 February 2003. 13 April 2009. http://www.portlandphoenix.com/archive/features/03/02/14/feat_bigelow.html.
Mount Bigelow (Maine) - Wikipedia
"Olympics of 1976 Sought by 16 U.S. Cities" Hartford Courant. 26 Feb. 1967.
"Skiing...It's a New Ball Game" Hartford Courant. 23 Jan. 1966.
Last updated: August 18, 2014