Here at Evergreen Valley, the outside temperature is 12 degrees, but a full 28 degrees warmer, at 40, inside our “villa.” We lost power yesterday (2/17), late in the afternoon after a day of wild snowless winds. Now, this morning, we sit wrapped in blankets in this electrically-heated 1970s condo. Somehow the outage seems fitting, what should be, one more challenge to overcome in Evergreen Valley’s long struggle to become a destination.
I first discovered Evergreen Valley, in Stoneham, Maine, about 10 years ago, as my husband and I spent a summer afternoon exploring the area while staying at another spot on nearby Kezar Lake. Intrigued by a sign on Route 5, we turned off and followed the road for a winding 3.5 miles as it went far back into the woods and then opened up, improbably, onto a scruffy but still-functioning golf course. Further back, a lodge-style inn was tucked into the woods. The road climbed another couple of hundred yards up a steep hill and ended in a small parking lot bordered by a dozen lonely condos backed up against the edge of the White Mountain National Forest. Down the hill and around the corner from the Inn, a massive ski lodge loomed at the base of an abandoned ski area. A memory clicked into place for my husband as he recalled having attended a rock concert here back in the 1970s.
Evergreen Valley was once a place of big dreams and big schemes, and a tale of how easily local and state officials are wooed and won on the hopes of a little economic development in an unlikely spot. Developers wanted to build a mega-ski resort here, one of the largest in New England, with a golf course, bubble-topped tennis courts, a marina on Kezar Lake, and hundreds and hundreds of housing units. At first, the idea for the resort was a grass roots effort, but as the project expanded from a small ski mountain to a mega-resort, other locals –especially the well-off part-year residents who populate these parts during the summer months – organized against the project, citing the scale of the resort as incompatible with the surrounding area. But really, environmental activism was the least of the challenges faced by Evergreen Valley. The sad fact is that skiers don’t flock by the thousands to an off-the-beaten path mountain with a 1,000 vertical feet – a hill really – in an industry that already was beginning the process of consolidation that would see many of New England’s small ski areas close in the 1980s.
For the dreamers who envisioned Evergreen Valley, no expense, it seemed, was spared. Timbers for the massive lodge were trucked in from Oregon. An Olympic-sized outdoor pool – intended for both summer and winter use – was dug next to the lodge. Tennis courts protected by a bubble dome were built, along with a riding stable with stalls for with 30 horses. Three chair lifts were installed on Adams Mountain. When the Evergreen Valley ski area finally opened for business in 1972 (after many delays), it was a state-of-the-art recreational facility, the most ambitious opening debut in New England ski history. At the time, some other resorts had more trails and lifts, but these ski areas had typically started small, with a rope tow and a T-bar, and gradually developed over time. At Evergreen Valley, skiers would not strain to balance on T-bars or flail around on a rope tow.
But the mountain struggled to attract skiers. By the mid-seventies, it was bankrupt and closed, although it did open again later for a few more seasons. At one point, the state of Maine purchased the resort at public auction for $500,000, and later sold it to another hopeful developer (for full details, see the link to the article below at the New England Ski History website). Today, the lodge sits empty, and the swimming pool is an empty hole. But the valley offers great snowmobiling, with access to miles and miles of trails, and has become a destination for snowmobilers from around the Northeast, many of whom stay at the Evergreen Valley Inn. Maybe the snowmobilers stay at the condos too, but we don’t know, because on most nights, our car is the only one in the parking lot. The resort would be a great setting for a Stephen King novel. I’m surprised it hasn’t showed up in one yet, given that King spends a lot of time in the area, at his home on Kezar Lake.
So why are we here at Evergreen Valley? (Not only are we here, but this is our second week-long stay). We’ve come partly because I like places that feel remote and apart from the hustle-bustle. Also, Evergreen Valley is located in convenient proximity to Bethel and the mega-resort of Sunday River (a slope with a few trails when Evergreen Valley opened), and to Shawnee Peak, a family ski area in Bridgton. When I saw that this particular condo at Evergreen Valley came equipped with its own hot tub, I was sold. Also, I guess I like giving a little business to the underdog, keeping hope alive. Back-door access to snowshoeing, along the old ski trails of Mount Adams or to the ledges of Speckled Mountain, is another bonus.
On my first attempt to snowshoe up Adams Mountain, I took long steps through the woods as high winds with 60 mph gusts howled. Birch trees bent and flailed and snow swirled up from the ground. I knew that the supple birches were not likely to snap in the wind, but older oak trees stood deeper in the woods. Every time I heard a crack, I looked about to see if a tree had snapped, although I knew logically that plotting an escape from a tree falling in my direction would be a fruitless exercise. I felt a bit like Thoreau on his final ascent of Mount Katahdin, feeling awestruck and terrified at the same time. Although I could clearly see the trail, I wasn’t sure what I would see if I reached the summit, so I decided to turn back to the condo.
The following day, remnants of the wind storm still ruffled the trees, but the howling had ended. With the sun softening the snow and cloudless blue skies that promised great views, I was determined to make it to the 1,650-foot summit of Mount Adams, about an 800-foot elevation gain from the condos. I snowshoed across the brook behind the condos, and bushwhacked through the trees, following yesterday’s tracks to one of the ski trails. This time I pushed further through the woods and began to hike uphill on a wider ski trail, now filled by a glade of birches.
Stomping uphill through the snow, I came upon a snowmobile trail, which provided a path up a steeper section. (Snowmobiles aren’t allowed on Adams Mountain, and I’m not sure if this trail was legal, but it provided a good reference for bushwhacking). After a final bushwhack through the trees, I arrived at a southwest-facing ledge with views of Kezar Lake. Further south, I could see the ski trails of Shawnee Peak, and to the west, mountains folding upon mountains, although the wind had kicked up just enough moisture to conceal Mount Washington’s summit.
I hiked up along the ledge until arriving at a flat area, forested with a grove of white pines. The snow mobile trail ended here, and then circled around and back down the mountain. I could see footsteps where the renegade snowmobilers had stepped out to admire the view, but on this day, I was absolutely alone on the summit. And even though I love downhill skiing, I was happy that I had this beautiful snow-capped rocky ledge to myself on a February afternoon.
Evergreen Valley, yeah, it’s definitely grown on me. The entire valley is for sale, for a reported $2.9 million dollars. Maybe someday another visionary with deep pockets and more realistic expectations will buy the resort and do more to bring in the snowmobilers, add a destination restaurant to the Inn, or at least a cozy bar. Maybe a millionaire yoga lover will transform the Inn into a yoga and meditation retreat that offers exquisite healthy meals and a New Age summer camp. Maybe, like the developers and their consultants, I’m a dreamer too, because I believe that potential exists to do more here in Evergreen Valley.
I wouldn’t want to see much more than what’s here now, just enough to add some economic development to the region, to keep the country stores open in Stoneham and Center Lovell, to add some kids to the school systems, to sustain the sense of community in this beautiful but hard-to-make-a-living corner of Maine.
I’m not interested in buying the condo next door (on the market at a 1980-ish price of $50,000), but I’ll return again to Evergreen Valley. Maybe on the next visit, I’ll hike up to the ledges on Speckled Mountain. I’ll definitely sit in the hot tub and gaze up at the stars in the inky sky.
P.S. The power was restored mid-morning, but we hardly suffered. The Inn provided us with hot coffee and an invitation to hang out in front of the fire in their great room. After breakfasting at not-too-far-away Melby’s, we returned to the warmth of a sunlight-filled living room. Not too long afterwards, the lights blazed and the hot tub began its steady hum.
References and further reading