On the way to Baxter State Park in northern Maine, we stayed over in Millinocket, a town of about 4500 about an hour north of Bangor. Millinocket is adjacent to Aroostook County, one of the more rural areas I’ve seen in the east. “The county,” as it’s known to just about anybody in Maine, has a few smaller towns, like Presque Isle and Caribou, but mostly it’s potato farms and really thick woods.
Back to Millinocket, there are some fun outdoor-oriented businesses here, with the Appalachian Trail Café leading the list. Breakfast was solid, service was good, and the place has a few interesting traditions. First, they offer the Summit Sundae Challenge, which is 14 scoops of ice cream (one for each state the AT passes through) along with snickers, M&Ms, and a doughnut. If you eat it all by yourself, you get to write your name on a pole by the cash register, presumably while you wait for CPR to start. Second, AT through-hikers get the honor of signing one of many now-colorful acoustic ceiling tiles that dot the restaurant. We only did a portion of the AT and not the whole 2180 miles, so we just signed the bathroom wall. That’s appropriate, right?
The outdoor tourism businesses in Millinocket seem to be doing ok, but the mill closed in 2008 and now there are a lot of vacant storefronts. One idea to jumpstart the economy is a proposal to create a new national park that adjoins Baxter State Park using land donated by a wealthy local philanthropist. It is the hot topic in town, and everyone has an opinion, from the cashier at Hanneford’s to the wait staff at the Scootic Inn (which, by the way, was excellent for dinner). The campaign is in full swing and there are signs everywhere that say “National Park Yes!” and “National Park No!”
So far, we’ve yet to meet anybody who supports the idea, even as they puzzle over what else could help to revive the local economy. One ranger in Baxter said to us “Why would someone even come to a Northwoods National Park? It’s not like there’s a Rushmore up here.”
One other observation: just about everything around that is not named Baxter is named Penobscot. That includes streets, rivers, lakes, bays, bridges, counties, you name it (well, actually, somebody already did). I was certain that the name inspiration was from a recurring character on the old TV show M*A*S*H, but Souzz explained that it’s from the Penobscot Nation, which has a long and storied history in the region. I have to buy Souzz a beer whenever she’s right, so I brought along a case.