BY BRAD VILES
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
MILLINOCKET — The town of Millinocket hosted a festival last weekend.
But it was not an ordinary festival.
Its official name was Trail’s End Festival, and it was organized around a simple theme. It celebrated the Katahdin region, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine.
Along with that theme it also marked the unofficial end of the through-hiking season, that time of the year when most through-hikers will reach the end of their own personal trail hike. I’m attracted to anything that has to do with hiking, so I went to the festival and found that Millinocket people know how to throw a party.
I arrived about mid-day Saturday and the event was in full swing at Veterans Park. One short street was barricaded off, and local restaurants, billed as the Local Flavah Food Court, were lined down the street selling everything from blueberry shortcake to lobster rolls. Judging from the blue tongues that I saw on some people, the short-cake was a hit.
After a short visit to the park to watch a local performer at the bandstand, I walked across the street to the Appalachian Trail Lodge, owned by Jaime and Paul Renaud. They are former through-hikers and, along with Marsha Donahue and her husband Robert Wayne Curlew, are the four people whose idea grew into the festival.
When I caught up with Jaime and Paul for a short chat, they were quick to point out that they didn’t work alone putting on the event.
“There were probably about eight of us who formed committees and attended every meeting,” Jaime said. “But we had support from many townspeople in the form of sponsorship and help. We absolutely could not have pulled this off without everyone’s help.”
The first organizational meeting for the festival occurred in December.
“So, it took nine months or so to finally get to this point,” Paul said.
They were both busy attending to festival business, and I wanted to take in some of the events, so we parted company.
I wanted to meet one of the scheduled authors appearing in the North Light Gallery, an art gallery owned by Marsha Donahue and her husband, so I walked up Penobscot Avenue to the gallery. Marsha was occupied with customers, so I approached the author to buy a book and get it signed.
The book is “Governor Baxter’s Magnificent Obsession,” about the park that bears his name. The author, Howard R. Whitcomb, signed the book and we talked for quite a while about the park.
From reading the handout of the schedule of events, I knew there were visual presentations being held in the back of the gallery, but I decided to walk back to Veterans Park to see a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator tell tales and stories from when Roosevelt visited Maine and climbed Mount Katahdin, the only sitting president to do so to this day.
I got back to the park as Joe Wiegand, as Teddy, was entertaining the crowd gathered at the bandstand. Weigand is a professional impersonator who has visited 48 states this year on a tour of the places that T.R. visited or left his mark. The stories had the audience entertained for an hour. He was scheduled for a second performance on Sunday and I planned to go to that show as well.
After supper at the Appalachian Trail Cafe, I walked outside to greet two through-hikers who had just arrived after their summit climb of Katahdin. They are a father and son from Israel whose trail names are Moses and Black Snake. I never got their real names.
They were looking for Katahdin Cabins to set up their tents for the night. The owner of the cabins had offered his lawn as a place to camp for free during the festival, only a short walk across town. We walked over to the cabins together past the grandstand where another local band was playing. Once at the cabins I turned in for the night and planned to see more of the events the next day.
I got up too late for the breakfast offered up by the Elks Club, so had breakfast at the cafe before walking around the park to check out some of the exhibits from the local trail clubs and others. I stopped at the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and talked with Bruce Grant, who I’ve known ever since I became a member. It was quite a reunion with Bruce, and we swapped stories for a while until the Penobscot Drummers and Dancers took the stage.
The drummers invited everyone in the crowd to join hands and the crowd responded by encircling the grandstand and dancing to the beat of the drums and singing. It was a very spiritual and moving experience. After they performed I caught Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, where he talked about the importance of living the outdoor life, among other topics.
By then, my time at the festival was almost up. I walked down to North Light to say goodbye to Marsha and Robert and tell them about what a great event it was. I asked her what the high point was for her during the festival.
“One of the most spectacular moments for me was when Butch Phillips blessed the region and its people in a smudging ceremony this morning before the Penobscot Drummers performed,” she said.
I agreed that was a special moment.
The people who live in Millinocket should be proud of the way they welcomed so many people to their town and for holding such an event. There were more activities than I had time to participate in. There were fly fishing demonstrations on the stream, raffles, a horse-shoe tournament and other visual presentations that I missed. This year’s Trails End Festival was only the first. I’ll be back next year for the next one. If you love trails and the Katahdin area, maybe I’ll see you there.