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Paul Pedersen

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Posted: November 15, 2017

Maine Mini Adventure: Mill about Millinocket

Written by: Paul Pedersen
Sweet scenery Photos by Paul Pedersen

Sweet scenery
Photos by Paul Pedersen

The adventure I had set out on was to climb Mount Katahdin.

I was making good time when, 58 miles north of Bangor, my car began to make a knocking sound, and then a loud bang: The engine was blown — and so was my hiking trip.

Eventually a tow truck arrived, driven by two men who encouraged me to take this opportunity to spend a little time in their hometown of Millinocket. After renting a car and finding the friend I was supposed to meet at the mountain’s base, we instead waited for news from the mechanic and spent the whole day bopping around the former mill town.

Millinocket was home to the Great Northern Paper Company, which started operating in 1900 and supported the financial needs of several generations of its residents, employing more than 4,000 people in its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. There seemed to be an endless stream of work and opportunity. But as ownership changed hands and the industry began to decline, the work started to dissipate and dried up all together when the mills finally closed.

With limited opportunity, the town’s younger population has been reluctant to stay, and the population is going down, while the median age continues to rise.

But those who have stayed behind, whether by choice or circumstance, make it a place worth visiting. Their warm and neighborly qualities indicate their appreciation for warm bodies and casual spenders, and it’s appeared to pay off. The local watering holes and dining spots seem to be doing all right, and based on the wait, the town barber is thriving.

The foundation of the town’s economy is seasonal tourism, and this seems to have stimulated a penchant for hospitality and salesmanship.

When I asked a local man for a breakfast suggestion, he explained that, at the moment, Ruthie’s was the only option, but I should come back after the snow falls; when the snowmobiles show up, there are two breakfast spots.

paul mini adventure nov 16

But the breakfast was good at Ruthie’s, and when I asked the waitress where we should get a beer, she said, “Right here.” It was 8:30 a.m., but our fellow diners didn’t seem judgmental about a little breakfast boozing, and the place has no shortage of Allagash and other Maine craft brews.

Next, we went to Scootic In Restaurant, where there’s a live lobster tank, as well as wings, fries and beer. Across the street is Russ’s Barber Shop, which had a five-person wait. A few doors down is the New England Outdoor Center’s Woods and Water Shop, inside of which is a very hip little gift store that also sells a bunch of Maine craft crews.

The store is operated by the same folks who run the River Driver Restaurant just outside of town, which has great views of Katahdin, a killer lakefront deck and garden, and a dining hall as aesthetically pleasing as any restaurant in Portland. If you want to get married in a place that looks like a Lumineers video, you could rent it out as a venue — and single-handedly stimulate a micro-economy.

Millinocket is a great base for outdoor activity. It’s adjacent to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, right by the fly-fishing mecca that is East Branch Penobscot River, and the nearest town to Baxter State Park with its Instagram-worthy Mount Katahdin.

There are trails for snowmobiling, canoes and rafts to be rented, ice and fly fishing, swimming, hiking, mushroom picking, moose to be seen, and marshmallows to be roasted. Millinocket is also home to Maine Dogsledding Adventures, which offers several tour packages and gets you on your own sled within minutes of meeting the team. With any luck, there will be numerous puppies to play with, all of which look like they belong on the set of “Game of Thrones.”

Avid runners should plan their visit for Dec. 9, when Millinocket is hosting a marathon with no entry fee, in hopes of encouraging liberal spending in town instead. Get a motel room; eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and get dessert, another drink, maybe make it a double. Live without reservation or budget for a day in Millinocket, and, for several reasons, you’re sure to get a warm, fuzzy feeling.


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