Proposals to offer lift-assisted mountain biking at the Snow Bowl and to create a board of directors to guide the town-owned recreation area drew mixed reactions from Camden Select Board members Feb. 6.

Morgan Laidlaw presented the Four Season Snow Bowl Committee's proposal for mountain biking recreation on weekends from June through October. The plan aims to produce revenue and mitigate the financial ups and downs of the ski operation.

While there is support for the proposal, town officials say it cannot be implemented in time for this summer due to the timetable for the Snow Bowl budget.

The committee was created by the Select Board to advise on year-round recreation and revenue streams for the Snow Bowl, following the 2015 expansion of the ski area, and a taxpayer bailout in 2016 of $300,000 in losses.

Laidlaw said the road to sustainability for the recreation area was an entrepreneurial approach. Using racing terms, he asked for a new vehicle and the support of the Select Board, which he likened to a pit crew.

The committee hopes to capitalize on existing enthusiasm for mountain biking by adding equipment to carry riders and their bikes up the mountain using the double chairlift. The plan would require new equipment to attach bikes to the chairlift, trail work and changes at the top to decrease the slope of the unloading area.

Suggested prices for day tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for children, $150 for adult season passes, $100 for junior season passes and $350 for family season passes. Revenue projections include sponsorships and rental fees from a bike shop and food vendor.

Camden Bagel Cafe hopes to provide food service for mountain bikers and others in the warmer months. To keep development costs down, the proposal recommends use of contributions from private donors, grants and drawing on volunteer labor and talent, a tradition dating back to the creation of the Snow Bowl.

The proposal lists $10,000 in startup costs, but does not specify how those funds would be used, or the cost of the chairlift equipment.

Estimated daily operating expenses are $1,500. Attracting 35 paying riders daily is the breakeven point, according to Laidlaw.

Brian Kelly, co-owner of Sidecountry Sports in Rockland, spoke about Monday family rides at the Snow Bowl that attract as many as 70 parents and children and Wednesday adult rides drawing more than 30 people. He believes the proposal could be started with a moderate investment.

Jeff Charland, a committee member, urged the Select Board to sell season passes for mountain biking now.

“You have the opportunity to sell hundreds of mountain bike season passes,” he said. “You have an audience there.”

Select Board member Marc Ratner expressed support for the mountain biking and food service plans.

Beth Ward, Parks and Recreation Department director and Snow Bowl manager, said she liked the plan. She said starting with beginners is the right way to phase it.

Select Board member Jenna Lookner saw sponsorships for a mountain biking map as an opportunity to raise funds. Chairman John French reminded presenters the program would first have to be added to the Snow Bowl budget.

“You are using the Snow Bowl budget to support it. It has to be figured into the budget,” he said.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell credited the committee and everyone involved for “their phenomenal work,” but nixed the idea of selling season passes for mountain biking now.

“We can't start selling season passes now, ahead of the budget process,” she said.

She said it was too close to the budget season to expect the program to run this summer. She said rushing it would set it up for failure. She suggested adding $10,000 to this year's budget for infrastructure improvements.

French said he hoped the proposal would work. He agreed to the idea of proposing $10,000 in the Snow Bowl budget for mountain biking infrastructure. He said expenses and revenues would have to be added to the budget, and the committee would have to wait and see if the funding made it through the budget committee and town vote.

Confusion ensued over the cost of that infrastructure, and the $10,000. Charland said it was for ancillary costs, such as maps and banners, not for infrastructure. Four Season committee member Ray Andresen said the $10,000 was not the cost of the mountain biking operation.

The Select Board asked for more information.

Former Planning Board member Jon Scholz and Dennis McGuirk, a volunteer who assists with Snow Bowl financial management, have teamed up to create a management plan for the recreation area called the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Four Season Sustainability Plan.

The plan calls for a number of improvements including bringing back the tubing hill, repaving the entrance road and adding boat racks and picnic tables.

The plan also calls for establishing a “Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Board of Directors” that would answer to the Select Board.

McGuirk said the board would consist of stakeholders and those with expertise in ski and recreation areas. The directors would assist Ward and staff.

Board member Allison McKellar supported the idea and likened it to the Camden Public Library's structure. Citing the amount of education required for board decisions on multiple areas of town management, she said the expertise of a board of directors for the recreation area would assist the Select Board with decision-making.

Lookner said there were many things in the plan that she liked, and that she planned to look into it further.

Ratner said he thought the board of directors could be a good idea, but he did not support giving the proposed board fiduciary responsibility over the Snow Bowl. He said the Select Board must closely monitor Snow Bowl finances and that it is ultimately responsible for financial management of the ski operation. He disagreed that managing the Snow Bowl could be compared to managing the library, and contrasted the volatility of the ski business with the long history and predictability of library operations.

Select Board member Bob Falciani disagreed with McGuirk's view that over its history, the ski area has cost taxpayers about $5,000 each year, even when considering the large deficits paid by taxpayers two years ago. Falciani said the town's accounting for the Snow Bowl did not reflect debt service, which is in the general fund, and not in the Snow Bowl budget. He said an analysis of “cumulative profit and loss” should take debt into consideration.

French took issue with the recommendation for a board of directors. He said the ski area had operated for many years without major issues, and attributed the idea for directors to the recent financial losses. He reminded everyone that until recently the Snow Bowl had a “rainy day” fund that most years was approximately $100,000, which was funded by profits during good years. He praised current Snow Bowl management. Regarding finances, he said the only cost not included in the Snow Bowl budget is debt. He disagreed with ideas such as charging sports teams to use the fields, and said he would rather see people play for free and be healthy.

McGuirk and Scholz were in agreement that the new plan was not a reaction to past management or events.