What would it be like to have more winter accommodations and services established on the edge of the hibernating giant that is Baxter State Park? What would happen If national park visitors could drive or snowmobile to within easy striking distance of BSP’s winter trails and stay at comfortable lodging with modern conveniences? If guests could enjoy the winter vistas of Mount Katahdin from a distance would they take more advantage of the park’s mostly-silent interior wonders?
The answers to all these question may reside at Millinocket Lake and the New England Outdoor Center’s Twin Pines Cabins and Campground. A recent weekend trip there with my daughter held surprises for this winter camper.
Winter outhouses are not for everybody. I’m only one-generation removed from the daily experience of unheated attendance to necessary bodily functions in the tiny enclosures that still dotted the western Maine landscape of my youth. Attending to the essentials at a Chimney Pond outhouse under winter storm conditions may not be my favorite thing — but it could never qualify as a reason not to go there.
Yet for those who come from several generations of modern indoor plumbing and central heating — the outhouse concept is a show-stopper. My own children balk at the winter version of this exercise. And during my 2012 Kittery to Fort Kent self-propelled trip, one of the enduring themes at every sporting camp I visited was the ongoing conversion to modern plumbing.
New England Outdoor Center has made that conversion (and then some) to make the camps at Millinocket Lake as comfortable as any modern home. Some of the larger cabins resemble lodges that I have visited, inside of, and on the edges of famous national parks in the west. This did not come as a surprise to me. NEOC has been a leader in the ecotourism trend that has transformed the way this state treats 22 million visitors per year.
What did surprise me was the quality of the outdoor experience that was retained despite the modern comforts.
Katahdin was as brilliant and awe-inspiring from Millinocket Lake as it is from Katahdin Lake inside the park. We skied across an intricately wind-sculpted surface that captured the fierce power of winter conditions leaking into the first days of Spring. Groomed trails through the woods offered an elevated view of the lake.
Yes, there were snowmobiles but they peacefully co-existed with those of us on skis and snowshoes. Yes, there was a full service restaurant on the premises, but it did not detract from home-made meals created in the cabins.
On Saturday Grace and I drove the short distance to the Baxter winter gate and skied a four-mile loop near Abol Pond — inside the park. We saw no-one else during this brief tour. It was nice to be alone again. A half-hearted snowstorm hid the mountain from view and it grew colder as the day wore on. This was my first-ever day trip to the park — summer or winter.
As we rolled back toward NEOC — I thought about a late lunch at the restaurant.
I have either become very soft or very wise.