STONEHAM — Harold Brooks likes to dream big.
Brooks, a 50-year-old grandfather, contractor, entrepreneur, businessman and organizer of multiple mass gathering events including the Redneck Blank, Pig Roast and Music Festival, is gearing up to bring his brand of family fun to a quiet, remote former ski lodge located adjacent to White Mountain National Forest land in Stoneham.
Now the Hebron resident is in the process of purchasing 260 acres in the former Evergreen Valley Ski Resort from Bob Bahre, former owner of the Loudon International Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway and an original partner in the development of the Oxford Casino. Bahre purchased the resort for $1.35 million in 1986, three years after the resort closed for good.
Brooks hopes to bring the Redneck Blank event to the long-abandoned ski resort, along with many other events in a multi-cultural venue that will have some 700 campsites.
He will call it the Evergreen Valley Event and Cultural Center.
Brooks told the Advertiser Democrat that he envisions a wide variety of events at the resort, including music and spiritual festivals, winter activities, serving holiday meals, a Woodsman Day, a display venue for sculptures and paintings, stage productions. ATVs will not be allowed but he would like to work with local snowmobile clubs to open up trails, and wants ice cream, picnic tables, hiking trails … the ideas are endless.
“It’s not just about the Redneck Blank. It’s about a bunch of different events,” said Brooks who plans on restoring and living in the property’s farmhouse.
Brooks said he was disappointed in the reaction of some of the 250 Stoneham residents, nearby Lovell residents and others, as time went on and his plan took notice. “I thought I was bringing something great. I was doing something good,” he said of the proposed event and cultural center.
Brooks said the attacks are heartbreaking to him. “The negativity has overwhelmed me.”
But he says he has learned a great deal in the past seven years about how to run a successful mass gathering event and is determined to win over the naysayers.
“Imagine if we didn’t have the battle. We could work together to make this area great … how much better that would be.”
Developing a mass gathering event in a small town and its corresponding negativity is not new to Brooks.
A member of the Great Falls Balloon Festival Board of Directors, he has organized multiple mass gathering events at his Hebron farm, including the Redneck Olympics now known as the Redneck Blank, the Redneck Rodeo, which drew riders from across the country, and the Zombie Invasion farm ride, during which no alcohol was allowed on the premises.
In 2010, he premiered the Redneck Olympics – a camping, dancing, mud-running, wife-carrying, beer-drinking event – on his 210-acre farm but during his second season faced a legal challenge from the United States Olympic Committee.
The Committee told him to change the name or face a lawsuit. Brooks said the Olympics had been around for thousands of years and called it a case of large group bullying a small businessman. He renamed it the Redneck Blank, Pig Roast and Music Festival.
The event wasn’t an easy sell in Hebron where selectmen quickly responded by bringing a Mass Gathering Ordinance to annual town meeting that spring. Brooks sat quietly in the gymnasium with some 70 other town meeting voters and answered questions about his plans. The Ordinance passed.
The Redneck Blank started as a weekend event and ballooned to a four-day event with thousands traveling down narrow Route 124 to 12 Harold Road in Hebron.
He made it clear that sanitation and order were important to him in this family affair. He brought in dozens of portable potties and they were cleaned every day. Eventually, in response to additional crowds, he hired Maine State Police to keep an eye on things and made it clear he would not tolerate drinking and driving or underage drinking.
This summer, his last Redneck Blank event in Hebron, almost didn’t happen.
In July he gave a public apology in lieu of a fine when it was discovered he had failed to file some of the necessary Mass Gathering Ordinance paperwork for his 2016 event. He offered the apology, provided the necessary forms, proof of insurance, and a letter from Maine State Police indicating they would have four officers on hand, and selectmen gave him the go ahead for the final Redneck Blank event to proceed.
This time, Brooks said he is prepared for the negativity from the Stoneham area as he lays plans for the future.
Stoneham Selectman Neil Littlefield said Brooks came before town officials last spring to tell them about his plans.
“We have no control over what he does,” Littlefield told the Advertiser Democrat recently. But what the town could and eventually did do was to proposed a Mass Gathering Ordinance.
If it passes at a future town meeting, the Ordinance will control a number of issues such as traffic flow, sanitation, trash disposal and fire protection. It also reinforces the prohibition of recreational marijuana sales, which was approved in March by Stoneham town meeting members.
As word has spread about Brooks’ plan, there has been some opposition.
“It’s distressing to me,” Laurel Jones of Stoneham told the Advertiser Democrat about her concerns particularly the impact to the environment.
In August, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Ordinance and limited remarks to three minutes each. One of the first questions was whether the ordinance was “close” to Hebron’s ordinance. It is.
Like Hebron, Stoneham does not have its own police department and will have to rely on notifying the Oxford County Sherriff’s Department should there be problems.
Concerns such as police protection, fire protection, road conditions, access to the Evergreen Valley timeshares, the lack of cellphone reception,noise, garbage and a great deal of discussion about the impact of a mass gathering on the environment filled the meeting.
For his part, Brooks told the Stoneham crowd that it would be at least two years before he was able to hold any type of event on the property and before then he hopes to meet with residents to discuss their concerns.
Littlefield said the ordinance was not aimed directly at Brooks but concedes there is a great amount of concern about the impact a large gathering event will have on the area, particularly the environmental impact.
Adjacent to national forest land and bordered by Kezar Lake, where writers and Kezar Lake summer residents Stephen and Tabitha King own a marina and other parcels next to the former resort, the quiet Evergreen Valley has hosted year-round outdoor activities and quiet solitude for decades.
Littlefield said the opposition is coming more so from nearby North Lovell neighbors and summer residents rather than from Stoneham residents.
Marg Crown, president of Evergreen Valley Inn and Villas, told the Planning Board at the public hearing in August that she and the timeshare owners were concerned about issues such as getting emergency vehicles up the road and the traffic in general.
Other such as Rumford Attorney Seth Carey asked residents to “give him (Brooks) a chance.”
“Is Stoneham open for business?” he asked.
Littlefield said the ordinance will come before the town meeting at a later date – one that has not been determined yet.
As for Brooks, he says he wants to work with the town of Stoneham – and that his venture will create jobs and benefit the town financially.
“I’m trying to do something good,” said Brooks. “We’re all one people no matter where we come from or what we do. This will be welcoming to all people.”