White elephant in a green valley

The trail map at Evergreen Valley.

The trail map at Evergreen Valley.

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.

The ski lodge remains a functional building. A little TLC and it could be open for something....

The ski lodge remains a functional building. A little TLC and it could be open for something….

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.

The Olympic-sized pool was intended for year-round operation.

The Olympic-sized pool was intended for year-round operation.

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.

A half-finished condo unit greets visitors as they drive up the lonely road into Evergreen Valley.  The inside was never finished. Today, several holes punctuate the roof.

A half-finished condo unit greets visitors as they drive up the lonely road into Evergreen Valley. The inside was never finished. Today, several holes punctuate the roof.

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.

February 2013 009

Hikers can follow the abandoned ski trails to the summit of Adams Mountain.

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.

Views of Kezar Lake. I took this photo on a third hike, as the day was drawing to a close.  Skies weren't as clear, but the view was still great.

Views of Kezar Lake. I took this photo on a third hike, as the day was drawing to a close. Skies weren’t as clear, but the view was still great.

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.

February 2013 017

The summit is topped by a flat open area. It’s a great snowshoe hike, and a good family hike in warmer months. In the distance, the trails at Shawnee Peak are faintly visible.

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

Evergreen Valley History – New England Ski History

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham, Maine – New England Lost Ski Areas Project

 View from Adams Mountain, Stoneham, c,. 1960

 

About Dianne Fallon

Maniacal Traveler Dianne Fallon writes from a house in the woods in southern Maine. Her interests include travel, hiking and the outdoors, and history, and she is quickly becoming an Instagram-aholic, @themaniacialtraveler.
This entry was posted in Family and Kids, Hiking, Maine places, Travels, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to White elephant in a green valley

  1. Rachel says:

    Great story Dianne!

  2. Marg Crown says:

    Dianne what a great way to describe your experience at Evergreen. I run Evergreen and most of our owners and renters come to Evergreen to experience the solitude and peace and enjoy outdoor activities with their families or spouses. Evergreen is in a beautiful location and definitely belongs to alot our hearts. We too wish Evergreen could be found by a purchaser who could or would want to develop in a way so as not to destroy it’s charm.

  3. brad bryce says:

    My parents took us up to evergreen lodge when I was a child.we believe had a time share.it was beautiful. I remember having walkie talkies to play man hunt in the hallway and there was a game room in basement and also a huge room with a fireplace. My father has passed away unexpectedly and haven’t been there in 25yrs.I now have children at ages that was fun for me up there and was curious if anyone knew if u can still rent rooms or walk inside the building. How I loved that place.

    • Dianne Fallon says:

      Brad, the Evergreen Valley Inn is alive and well and still has the game room and the fireplace room. If you go to Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO.com), and search under Lovell or Kezar Lake, you will find that one of the condos is regularly rented by a private owner for a very reasonable price.

  4. Tim Maddocks says:

    I also was a resident at EGV during the summers from 1980-1994. My father still has his timeshare week to this day. I remember EVG in full swing during the early 80’s. My family swam in the pool, ate at the restaurant and even the horseback riding. The trout fishing in Adams brook is top notch. My dad would hike us up and we would proceed to clean the brook out of all available trout. One cool thing about this brook is it has a natural waterslide. I was back at EGV for the first time last summer during the 4th of July holiday to relive my youth. I was saddened to see the deterioration of the area as a whole. What saddened even more to learn that the landscape model of EVG in the basement of the inn was no longer present. EVG may never see the glory it once did and was supposed to but I am glad it’s still in operation and has people talking.

  5. Janet says:

    I own a small unit for a week at the end of Fryeburg Fair, I have enjoyed several long weekends at peak leafing and for that great entertainment.
    This year will be my g’son’s first visit with my. I just cannot wait to share it.
    It is not perfect, for sure.
    The seclusion is wonderful and those who are really involved in the resort are working so hard to improve it and attract both guests and owners.
    It is heartwarming to see.
    You can’t find a more affordable time share anywhere.

  6. Mike Aldrich says:

    Dianne, I really enjoyed your article and my grandfather Rupert Aldrich would have also enjoyed it. Unfortunately, Rupert passed away in 1987 only 5 years after he declared bancruptcy and we closed Evergreen. He was 79. My father David inherited the debts and died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 61. I worked for my grandfather and Aunt Annie at Evergreen. During the winter I lived at the Inn in room 240. During the summer I lived in the ski patrol room in the lodge. But Evergreen was not a hill like Lost Valley in Auburn. We had the same vertical drop as Mt. Abram or Black Mountain and close to Shawnee Peak. But the rest of your article was very accurate. In 1980 we had a snowless winter and did not open. Talk about stress. Then Rupe hired some con-artists and they really messed things up. Evergreen was my home and my year around playground. If I wasn’t working, I was skiing, golfing, swimming or playing tennis. And dancing to the live bands on the weekends. But it also caused a lot of stress for my grandfather, father, aunt and myself. I often make the 90 minute drive from Lewiston to visit Evergreen. In the winter I hike up the mountain and slide down the snowmobile trails. In the summer I hit golf balls and hike up to Wilhems chalet where I used to spend many nights. But I have mixed emotions and sometimes in the winter I end up crying. If you go back ask them how to get to the chalet and the goathouse. It is a beautiful log cabin with a terrific view. I honestly do not expect anyone to revive Evergreen. It has been through 33 years of depreciation. It makes me sick to look at the golf course, tennis courts, pool and lodge. I am the one who picks up the rotton wood falling from the outdoor deck as my grandfather watches from heaven with a smile on his face. No one else cares. But maybe someone really rich can prove me wrong. But thank God the Inn is still going. The place still has a heartbeat and the snowmobilers also visit. But it will “never be the same”.

  7. I’m glad you found my post, Mike. I’m sorry to hear about the impact of the stress upon your family members and their health.

    You might be interested to know that this is one of my most frequently viewed blog posts. Many people seem to have fond memories of Evergreen or they find it today and experience the quiet beauty of the valley. It really is a unique setting in New England, tucked away as it is.

    I do plan on returning (in fact, we were going to rent a condo there this winter but the dates didn’t work out), and will definitely ask about hiking up to the chalet and goathouse.

    I remember the winter of 1980, pre-snowmaking. I went on a high school ski trip to Sugarloaf that winter, and when we arrived, they had closed the mountain and would not let us ski because of the ice. We were a crowd of teenagers spending the weekend when the drinking age was 18; you can imagine the rest. I believe Sugarloaf went bankrupt after that season, or within a few years.

    Evergreen definitely needs “deep pockets” for restoration and revitalization, and you may be right about its prospects. But the historic Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in Rye, NH sat empty and abandoned from 1982-early 2000s, and was slated for demolition in 1995. Now it is a showplace.

    Thanks for visiting.

    • Mike Aldrich says:

      I forgot to mention that the rotton wood I pick up from the falling deck ends up as excellent kindling in my woodstove at home in Lewiston. The snowfall this winter was the straw that broke the camel’s back as 8 more large beams gave way. I will be busy this summer cleaning things up as a volunteer. I always knew that lodge would be a part of my future.

  8. Rob Carignan says:

    Hi,

    The wife, kids and I have vacationed at a camp on Kimball pond in Fryeberg for the last eight years. This year, having exhausted the areas around the lake, my youngest and I headed off north on 113 to explore. Driving through the Deer Hill area, we popped out near Lovell right at Evergreen! I was shocked to see a lodge, pool, tennis court and what seemed to be an old golf course. I knew Maine has dozens of abandoned ski places, but this took me by surprise. Thanks for filing in the details.

    Rob Carignan
    Portland, Me

  9. Pingback: Gray jays, great day: A fall hike on Mount Waumbek | Dianne Fallon, The Maniacal Traveler

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