MILLINOCKET, Maine — Gary Allen is a longtime long-distance runner who likes the idea of the state’s running community helping struggling mill towns.
That’s why he’s organizing a marathon and a half marathon — a 13.1-mile loop that runners can do twice — for the Katahdin region on Saturday, Dec. 12, he said Tuesday.
The 58-year-old Great Cranberry Island resident, who is the founding race director of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, will not be charging runners an entry fee to the event, which starts 10 a.m. at Veterans Park. His suggestion is that participating runners and attendees instead spend their money at Katahdin region shops, restaurants and hotels and see how much the area has to offer.
“It’s kind of neighbors helping neighbors,” Allen said Tuesday. “People are really excited. The running community is going to turn out in force to help Millinocket. It is really a fun thing to see happen.”
Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce Administrative Aide Kara Morris found a nice synchronicity in Allen’s idea. The race will start about two hours before a scheduled sleigh ride from Jeandreau’s Greenhouse to Veterans Park and the opening of a Santa House contributed by another all-volunteer economic development effort, OurKatahdin.com, she said.
“We have been in touch with Gary a few times. It sounds like it is a wonderful opportunity to have people come from all over and enjoy the beautiful area we have here and help our economy,” Morris said Tuesday.
The event should benefit the entire Katahdin region, which includes the towns of East Millinocket and Medway, she said.
“Gary has been running for quite some time, and just the fact that he even thought of us is exciting,” Morris said. “Knowing the beautiful area we have I think he realized that there is a need. There are still shops here, still restaurants here, still a lot of things to do here that will benefit from this.”
Since 2008, the region has been devastated by the closure of paper mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket, which in turn contributed to vast unemployment, unprecedented numbers of foreclosures and a population exodus.
People who cannot attend Saturday’s event but who want to help the region should visit ourkatahdin.com, Allen said.
Formed about a year ago, the OurKatahdin group has aided about a dozen community development fundraising projects aimed at improving the region’s business climate and quality of life. The volunteer efforts completed or underway include the restoration of the East Millinocket gazebo, the busing of residents to Stearns High School tournament basketball games, a Katahdin-region Santa House and a Millinocket farmers market. One of its most recent ventures involves soliciting investment in Katahdin-area businesses.
The marathon and a half isn’t Allen’s first fundraising race. He has run long-distance treks to Washington, D.C., and to the Super Bowl and organized a race from Bucksport, another struggling mill town, to Ellsworth on Nov. 29. The Bucksport race was organized in less time and with less advanced publicity than the Millinocket race, and it still managed to draw a dozen runners, he said.
As of Tuesday, the “Millinocket Marathon & Half” page he created on Facebook listed 54 people committed to running the race and another 130 interested in attending. A total of 870 were invited to attend. Anyone wishing to run in the event is asked to visit the page and list themselves as attending.
Winter might not seem an ideal time for a marathon, but a surprising number of runners enjoy the cold, Morris said.
The 13.1-mile race will start at Veterans Park and loop over the Golden Road, offering some spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, before turning back to the park. Runners can do the loop twice, Allen said.
Allen said he would be interested in organizing more races for struggling mill towns.
“If it has anything to do with running,” Allen said, “I am interested.”