TOWNSHIP 3, INDIAN PURCHASE — The ITS 86 snowmobile trail is located about 200 yards from the Sawmill Bar and Grill on the road to Baxter State Park, and an ATV trail is about 200 yards beyond that, Dean Rodrigue says.
Those are among the reasons the 45-year-old Waterville-area native spent about $300,000 over the last several months turning a former convenience store within yards of the Millinocket town line on Millinocket Lake Road into the 1,700-square-foot restaurant.
A snowmobiler who had lived part-time in Millinocket for five years and full-time over the last year before making the investment, Rodrigue officially opened the restaurant on Monday, he said.
“I don’t think too much about the hardships that have happened in this town,” Rodrigue said Monday. “There are a lot of hardships that go on in this town but there is a big base of people here, and from what I have seen there are a lot of people who still like to have a good time.
“A lot of tourists are coming in here, too,” Rodrigue added.
Considered primarily a mill town since the dawn of the 20th century, Millinocket’s paper mill on Katahdin Avenue closed in September 2008 and has not restarted, devastating the Katahdin region economy. The mill’s 208 workers were laid off. About 212 workers were laid off from the East Millinocket paper mill last month.
The latest figures on visitors to Baxter State Park were not available on Monday, but park officials have said that it generally draws 60,000 to 80,000 people annually. A 2008 economic development study available on the park’s website indicates that the average spending for all visitors per trip total was $606.70. On average, people within the park spend $28.35; within the local community, $187.86; and en route in Maine, $198.65, according to the study.
Besides drawing visitors driving by on the road to Baxter, which is within 15 miles of his bar, Rodrigue said he figures he would be in a good location should a national park ever be built in the Katahdin region. He had become interested in running a bar and grill, he said, after selling his half of a telecommunications business slightly more than a year ago.
“I figured I needed to do something with my life,” he said. “I figured I would buy this building and start something up.”
He spent much of the last year renovating the building, he said. The restaurant serves American fare, soft drinks and alcohol and had welcomed close to 300 people as of 5 p.m., he said.