BENNINGTON — Although there is still some fundraising to do, a local nonprofit group has completed its purchase of the Prospect Mountain Nordic Ski Center.
David Newell, president of the Prospect Mountain Association, said the group closed on the purchase Wednesday, acquiring the 144-acre ski area in Woodford, five buildings at the site, trail grooming equipment and revenue from a cellular tower on the property for $900,000.
"We feel that this is a great development for the economic and recreational health of our area," Newell said. "It was a great team effort with a lot of moving parts. We know now that Prospect will be preserved for future generations in our area. However, our efforts are ongoing to complete our capital campaign, which is critical to the success of our mission."
Newell said the group has a goal of raising $265,000 to pay off a mortgage held by one of the former owners, Steve Whitham, a loan from the Vermont Land Trust, and to raise some working capital for the center operation.
To date, Newell said, the group has raised $150,000 in cash and pledges.
The balance of the cost will come from a $450,000 donation from alumni of Williams College and a $285,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which is contingent upon approval for a preservation easement for the mountain portion of the land and completion of the PMA's capital campaign.
The Vermont Land Trust, which has assisted the group since it announced its fundraising effort late last year, is overseeing the easement process, Newell said.
Donald Campbell, southwest regional director for the Vermont Land Trust, called the Prospect ski area "an amazing community asset" that provides locals with outdoor recreation and attracts out-of-town visitors.
"Being able to conserve a locally beloved place like Prospect — protecting it as a Nordic ski area and a chunk of very wild habitat — helps us keep our communities strong," Campbell said. "It is an incredible personal pleasure for me to protect Prospect Mountain; I skied in there as a boy and I'm skiing there still."
Williams College Nordic ski teams have used Prospect Mountain for training and race events, as have Mount Anthony Union High School and Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, Mass.
Prospect Mountain will now serve as the home base for the Williams Nordic team and host the college's winter carnival, Newell said, adding that the PMA has a nine-member board of directors, including four associated with the college.
Whitham, the longtime owner along with Andrea Amodeo, will stay on as mountain manager for the nonprofit group.
Efforts to preserve the facility and the property from other types of development were prompted when Whitham and Amodeo, who owned the ski area for 26 years and had converted it to a Nordic center from a former small downhill ski area, said they were considering selling the property.
Newell said that, although not all of the $265,000 that must be raise is in hand, the PMA members felt they had "to pull the trigger" on the closing at this time, because the sale agreement had already been extended twice.
But he said the group remains confident the money will be raised, given the large number of ski enthusiasts from around the tri-state region who participated in high school, college or Bill Koch League events there, as well as cross-country skiers from the area. To many, Prospect Mountain has an iconic image throughout the region, he said.
Long-range proposals for the center include snowmaking equipment, an expanded lodge area, or expansion of compatible attractions for hikers, bikers and others during the warmer months and a schedule of events year-round.
The area also has been used for Vermont state high school Nordic races and for national snowshoe races.
Newell said the next fundraising event in the campaign, on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at the base lodge off Route 9, will feature Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins and World Cup sprint racer Sophie Caldwell. The event will be free and open to the public, he said.