The people of Millinocket deserve a lot of credit for rebuilding their community after the disastrous closing of Great Northern Paper’s mill in 2008. The population plunged from 6,702 to 4,300, and even their library closed because the town could no longer afford to support it.

Shortly after the library closed, I conducted a fundraising seminar for the library trustees and volunteers, and I was very pleased when they were able to reopen the library, which is now an amazing place where you can borrow everything from bicycles to cross-country skis.

Deidre Fleming of the Portland Press Herald recently wrote an article about the bike trails that have been built just south of Baxter State Park. Matt Polstein, owner of the New England Outdoor Center, has been a leader in this project and the revitalization of Millinocket as a whole.

My wife Linda and I wrote travel columns about Polstein’s Outdoor Center, which offers both cabins that were once part of a sporting camp and new housing that he constructed. And his restaurant is fantastic. Imagine sitting there enjoying a wonderful dinner and looking out the window across the lake to the beautiful Mount Katahdin.

The biking trail is a great idea. They have six miles of trails right now and funding to create another 10 miles of trails. They think, eventually, they’ll have as many as 100 miles of biking trails.

I liked Polstein’s comments in Fleming’s article: “I think our success will hinge in part on the fact we have great terrain and we are thoughtfully, professionally building trails. More importantly, however, is a connection we have to the other great resources in the Katahdin region, and a community of supporters.”

The Katahdin region is an amazing and very special place. Linda and I and our kids have enjoyed all of those great resources since we bought our camp on Nesowadnehunk Lake on the edge of Baxter State Park about 35 years ago. We drive 20 miles on the park’s perimeter road to reach the driveway to our camp, which is part of an old sporting camp called Camp Phoenix.

Trout fishing there is the best in the state, and we spent lots of time exploring Baxter Park. I have photos of our kids on top of many of the mountains in the park. And we enjoyed biking in the park. I tell lots of people in the summer to forget Katahdin, where there will be hundreds of people on the trails, and hike some of the other mountains where you can be all by yourself.

Mount Coe is my favorite but there are lots of others that are wonderful hikes. In August our son Josh, his wife Kelly, and our two granddaughters, Esme, 2 ½ years old, and Ada, 5, hiked 2½ miles up Burnt Mountain. Josh nudged Esme along by offering her chocolates. When she was 3, Ada saw her first moose and caught her first trout at camp.

Sadly, most of the moose and deer up there are gone. I have photos of our kids on the camp’s lawn surrounded by moose and deer. We haven’t seen a deer up there in six or seven years and we’ve only seen one moose a year.

I had a favorite brook in Baxter that I fished, catching lots of beautiful brook trout, and never seeing another angler. I also spent time fishing the east and west branches of the Penobscot River, both spectacular waterways.

And now just east of Baxter we have the new national monument, thanks to Roxanne Quimby and her son Lucas St.Clair. It is another very special place where I have enjoyed some spectacular fishing and kayaking. The monument has also started to rebuild the struggling economies of Patton, Shin Pond, and Mattagamon.

Thursday at the New England Outdoor Center, Friends of Baxter Park will host an event focused on Gov. Percival Baxter’s legacy. One topic of discussion will be recent and ongoing dramatic changes in our climate, ownership of the land surrounding Baxter State Park, and in the economy of the Katahdin region.

While I am unable to be there, I do want to thank the Friends of Baxter Park for organizing this conversation, and congratulate Polstein and all the others who have stepped up to rebuild Millinocket’s economy and town, focusing on the spectacular outdoor Maine that they are blessed with.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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