MILLINOCKET — More than 250,000 people a year pass through Millinocket on their way to the northern Maine woods. Millinocket wants them to stop and stay awhile.
The town is making numerous efforts to attract visitors to the area as part of a plan to diversify its economy and bring jobs here.
For decades tourism was viewed as a dirty word in this one-industry town of about 7,000 people. But that changed with the loss of more than 2,000 high-paying paper mill jobs through corporate downsizing and restructuring during the past decade.
“We can’t rely on one, sole industry ever again,” said Mark Scarano, the town’s community development director. “That is why we are looking at not only tourism, but wood-products manufacturing as well. Tourism is part of the answer [to diversification], but it’s only one part
Town Council Chairman Herbert Clark said Millinocket can’t overlook anything that will provide jobs for people. “We can’t let any rock be unturned,” he said.
“Tourism is a segment we need to be looking at. Sometimes, we have taken for granted what is in our own back yard,” Clark said.
Scarano said Millinocket is not just waiting for tourists to come, but is actively advertising some of its many recreational opportunities and intends to promote them aggressively.
Millinocket’s community development director hopes residents will fill the Stearns High School auditorium at 6 p.m. Thursday for the premiere of the town’s new 17-minute tourism promotional video titled “Memories of Millinocket.”
The new video will be used to promote the many recreational opportunities Millinocket has to offer. It is the second of two promotional videos about the town. More than 200 people felt a sense of pride and hope when they filled a vacant downtown store last March to see the premiere of the town’s promotional video for economic development.
“Mill towns have earned the reputation of not incubating entrepreneurs. What I’ve seen in the past year is Millinocket has a lot of entrepreneurs,” Scarano said.
Also featured at the tourism video premiere will be some of Millinocket’s newest entrepreneurs, who have developed products such as a new chili powder, cedar Christmas decorations and canoe racks.
Scarano said the Millinocket area has and continues to build more accommodations for visitors, such as campgrounds and motels. He said two new hotels have been built — one in Millinocket and one in Medway — in recent years. Also, two new campgrounds were built last summer and a third is planned for this summer. “All of them were built to provide accommodations for visitors, white-water rafters, hikers and many others,” said Scarano.
Scarano says snowmobiling is booming in the area. Even Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn visited Millinocket last weekend and signed autographs. “It shows the word is getting out,” said Scarano.
The economic impact of snowmobiling is estimated to be between $4 million and $5 million a year for Millinocket, according to Brian Wiley of Millinocket, who has held a number of top posts in state and local snowmobile groups.
The Millinocket area has more than 100 miles of groomed trails and some of the largest active clubs in the state. “We have got it all,” said Wiley. “We have spectacular scenery that surrounds our many lakes and mountains. Then there is ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and numerous other things to do. There are museums and local clubs to visit and we are just minutes off the interstate.”
Scarano says another growing business is white-water rafting. Millinocket also is looking at the possibility of having bike trails in and around the town.