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The Magic City

Millinocket’s paper mill may be closed, but there’s still magic in the town known as The Magic City. Local planners have a few tricks up their sleeves this winter to make a visit worth the extra drive time to this uniquely historic northern Penobscot County community. Seeing Mount Katahdin blanketed in white alone may take your breath away.

“There is much to do in Millinocket in February,” said Wende Sairio, director of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce. “Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog-sledding, airplane rides, winter hiking and camping are always fun. Plus, cozying up to a fire at the end of the day is wonderful, as is enjoying great food and shopping, along with a visit to the historical museum.”

Winter Festival takes place during school vacation week, Feb. 19-26. A parade, bonfire and other activities are listed on the town’s website, millinocket.org. For shopping, dining and overnight options, visit the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce website, katahdinmaine.com. Discover Katahdin, a popular app, offers much of the web page’s information in a more portable fashion.

Civic leaders put on their thinking caps before the Great Northern Paper Co. mill, the region’s mainstay since 1899, shut down in 2008. The silence of a dormant industry that had fed so many families and employed French Canadian and Italian immigrants was deafening. Demand for paper had ebbed, and foreign markets were manufacturing at a lower cost.

Many realized that the Katahdin region’s natural beauty and outdoor opportunities will outlast any mill closures and that a national audience knew the region from “American Loggers,” a Discovery Channel series that chronicled the Pelletier family’s adventures. So, even in last Dec. 10’s bone-chilling temperatures, hundreds of runners traversed the Golden Road for the Millinocket Marathon & Half. Race organizer Gary Allen waived entrance fees, but encouraged runners to support businesses affected by two regional mill shutdowns.

Eateries like the Scootic Inn, located near the race’s downtown starting line, benefited from the activity, as did River Driver’s Restaurant and Pub. Racers might have been surprised to see an assortment of art outlets in town, including Moose Prints Gallery and North Light Gallery.

“There’s a lot going on in town this winter,” said North Light owner Marsha Donahue. “I’m optimistic about the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which I enthusiastically support. I think it’s going to bring a lot of business into the Millinocket region.”

Trudy Wyman, curator of the Millinocket Historical Society, is thinking positive by looking back. Museum exhibits showcase the birth of The Magic City, so named because, created by the paper industry, it was carved out of the woods and incorporated in 1901, as if by magic. The future town was settled in 1829 by Thomas Fowler and his family and was known by sportsmen traveling to the Katahdin region. In 1894, the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad extended service to Houlton, opening the area to development. Museum treasures explain the town’s wartime military response, the logging industry, and powerhouse Stearns High School basketball teams. In addition, the Great Northern mill whistle stands vigil in the front lobby.

To explore more local history, visit the Antique Snowmobile Museum. At the Memorial Library at 5 Maine Ave., ask for these books: “Millinocket: Magic City of Maine’s Wilderness,” by Dorothy Bowler Laverty; “Millinocket: Images of America,” by David R. Duplisea; and “Millinocket, Maine, 50th Anniversary: 1901-1951.” Lloyd W. Morey Sr.’s “Magic City Doctor” tells a physician’s story, and “Coach and His Boys: George Wentworth,” by William R. Sawtell, describes the career of a Stearns High School basketball genius.

“Truly, the best way to check out Millinocket [history and more] is to experience it in any season,” Sairio said.

So, after you hang up your snowshoes this spring, start planning for a July 4th wilderness experience, or a visit to Trail’s End Festival in Crandall Park the third weekend in September. Past attractions have included performances by the Mallett Brothers Band and a talk by the late Donn Fendler, who, as a 12-year-old in 1939, survived nine days lost in the Katahdin region. There is no end to Millinocket’s magic.

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