Libraries have long been places of wonder and knowledge. Books can transport readers, young and old, to distant lands and times long ago. Libraries are increasingly becoming about more than just books. They offer computer access and a place for community conversations and performances. Some offer social work services and referrals to community support agencies.
Now, libraries are extending their reach even farther into their communities. Working on a home renovation project and need a hard-to-find tool? Your local library may be able to help. Want some toys to entertain your grandchildren who are visiting for a week? Check out the library’s collection.
And, perhaps most innovative of all, the Millinocket Memorial Library now loans out bikes, packs, skiis, canoes and other outdoor gear so library patrons can explore trails and waterways around the outdoor gateway community. The Katahdin Gear Library is supported by the Outdoor Sport Institute, Maine Community Foundation, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bicycle Coalition of Maine and other private donors. The library also offers bicycle maintenance and helps organize group outings to explore the region.
“Libraries across the country are redefining what they are and how they can serve their communities,” the library’s director Matt DeLaney recently told the Bangor Daily News. “If ecotourism and the outdoors is what’s going to save the Katahdin region, then that’s what we need to offer to our patrons. We don’t give them books about mountain biking. We put them on a mountain bike.”
The Millinocket library has an interesting story. The town’s public library closed after voters defunded it in 2015. With the help of grants and private donations, the library reopened later that year. The nonprofit that now operates the library has since raised $1.24 million to fully renovate the building. The library is temporarily housed in the former Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant, which was owned by the family featured in the “American Loggers” reality television show.
DeLaney, the library’s director, moved to town almost three years ago after participating in the 2016 Millinocket Marathon and Half, an event created to help the town recover from the economic damage done by the closure of its mill. This summer, he ran all the trails in Baxter State Park to familiarize himself with the popular park that is only a few miles from Millinocket.
Personally and professionally, he is connecting people with an expanding part of the community’s vibrancy — a growing outdoor economy. Millinocket and neighboring East Millinocket, along with surrounding communities, were devastated when mills in the two towns shut down. Many local residents had long been skeptical of ecotourism as an economic engine for the region.
With the mills shuttered and the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monuments on their doorstep, the towns are adapting and evolving.
Gifts, grants and volunteer labor have helped Katahdin Area Trails build six miles of bike trails on Hammond Ridge, north of Millinocket, as well as 10 miles of ski trails and 2 miles of snowmobile trails in the area. There are plans for more trails and a bike-only gravity park. The group’s mission is to “invigorate and revitalize the economy of Maine’s Katahdin region.”
Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone opened to the public this year. The facility, created by philanthropist Gilbert Butler, features more than 15 miles of intersecting carriage-style trails for skiing in winter and biking and walking in the spring, summer and fall.
The Millinocket library brings this work full circle by providing the means — bikes, skiis, hiking gear — to encourage use of the community’s growing recreational resources. That’s an innovative approach worth checking out.