MILLINOCKET, Maine — Where most people see the Grindstone Scenic Byway, Fred Michaud sees a story to be told.
The question, Michaud said, is: How do people along the byway best use the 59-mile national landmark to reflect the area it runs through?
“It’s really about developing the story of the region,” Michaud, a Maine Department of Transportation policy analyst, said during a meeting of the Grindstone Scenic Byway Corridor Advocacy Group on Thursday. “What makes this place special? Why do people like to live here? What elements of the region do they want to see reflected [in the byway]?”
The advocacy group and local businesspeople met at Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant on Thursday to begin to answer those questions. Group members said they recognized that the byway is a national treasure by virtue of the National Scenic Byways Program designation.
One of only about 3,050 routes so designated nationwide and in Puerto Rico since 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation named the road a byway in 2007 based on its archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. Katahdin region leaders have worked to extend it since then.
The byway runs from the Baxter State Park boundary near Togue Pond over Baxter Park and Millinocket Lake Road to Millinocket, where it joins Route 11 to East Millinocket and Medway. It then goes to Stacyville and Sherman, then north to Patten, home of the Lumbermen’s Museum. From Patten the byway follows Route 159 through Mount Chase and the Village of Shin Pond to the northern boundary of Baxter State Park at Matagamon, according to a website dedicated to it, https://sites.google.com/site/grindstonebyway/.
Signs marking the route went up about two years ago. The designation comes with a plethora of international publicity and tourists, but the tourists, Michaud said, need something to see more than the road itself.
He and other committee members are forming a steering committee that will guide the installation of kiosks, parking areas and other highlights along the byway that will tell the region’s story.
They hope that the tourism created by the byway will stimulate all aspects of the region’s economy. For it to succeed, they said, the byway must reflect everything unique and noteworthy about the area — not just what’s touristy.
Committee members encouraged businesspeople to make the designation a part of their businesses’ offerings and advertising to help build tourism traffic. The committee also is seeking government funding and private investment to help build out the byway’s infrastructure.
Alice Morgan, president of the Millinocket Downtown Revitalization Committee, said she believed the byway could grow to be an important part of the Katahdin region’s economy if it properly reflects the region itself.
“The skeleton is out there,” she said of the byway. “Now we have to put the meat on the bones.”
East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston said he believed the meeting would help stimulate greater cooperation and communication among region businesses and cultural site operators as they work to determine what of the region the byway should reflect.
John Noll, a program manager at Eastern Maine Development Corp., an economic development agency working on the byway, said more interarea cooperation must occur before the byway can be finished.
Too many involved divide the region between East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket and its other areas — Sherman, Patten and Stacyville — when the approach must be more inclusive, he said.