Activity event

Growing demand for outdoor recreation supports Katahdin area activity and event center plan

The owner of the New England Outdoor Center near Millinocket was already deep in plans for an outdoor recreation activity and event center nearby this year, but pandemic-driven demand made the project even more vital.

The 9,141-square-foot activity center, which will include a microbrewery and tasting room, will open in December or March, following recent approval from the Planning Commission, said Matt Polstein, of Hammond Ridge LLC, which develops Placer. Polstein also owns the outdoor center on Millinocket Lake.

“There has been exceptional demand” this year for the center’s existing outdoor recreation, which includes 20 cabins, Polstein told Mainebiz This Morning. “It tells us that people want to be in this part of the world, recreate somewhere safe. We had more demand than we had capacity in July and August.”

He said that despite the short-term challenges related to the pandemic, the demand makes him confident that in the long term the plan is bearable.

The second phase of the plan includes a 7,143 square foot event center that would host weddings and other gatherings. Once the first two phases are complete, Polstein said he would focus on residential development. Polstein said a 135-kilowatt solar array is nearing completion and will return the Twin Pines resort to the NEOC, which has 20 cabins that can accommodate up to 115 guests, net-carbon-free.

The development is planned for land on Hammond Ridge, near the New England Outdoor Center, where the center expanded its trail network last year. The area is approximately eight miles northwest of Millinocket in T1 R8 WELS (Unorganized Territory designation means Township 1, Range 8 west of the eastern state line). The area is southeast of the south entrance to Baxter State Park, and the outdoor center, activity center, and event center are scattered around the Hammond Ridge area.

Some 244 acres of the area on the shore of Millinocket Lake was rezoned in 2007 to allow for resort development, including a conference center, lodges and vacation homes. In 2018, an additional 32.68 acres were rezoned to accommodate the event center on Hammatt Ridge Road, according to the LUPC filing.

The initial design is by Portland-based Aceto Landscape Architects and Ellsworth-based Mike Sealander of Sealander Architects. Bowman Constructors, of Newport, is the construction manager.

Polstein said the two buildings will have “magnificent views” of Katahdin and its mountains to the northwest, across the lake.

Courtesy / Land Use Planning Commission

The yellow dot shows the site of the Hammond Ridge LLC Activity Center, and the blue dot is where the Event Center will be built. The New England Outdoor Center is on the peninsula in the upper left.

Basecamp, hub of future development

The activity center will be a gathering place that will bring together the variety of outdoor activities already offered by the company — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, hiking, snowmobiling and more. Polstein last year developed the Katahdin Area Trails, six miles of trails for a variety of activities, on Hammond Ridge.

“You can go mountain biking on beautiful trails and then come and have a cold beer brewed on site,” he said.

“This will be a wonderful amenity for NEOC guests and fabulous for recreation in the state of Maine,” said Caitlin Aceto, of Aceto Landscape Architects. She said the activity center is envisioned as a base camp and hub for future planning of the outdoor center.

“Sealander Architects and Aceto Landscape Architects have worked closely with Matt Polstein and are thrilled to see the plan moving in a fabulous direction,” she told Mainebiz.

Polstein said the biggest challenge has been finding staff. While there have been out-of-state requests from deputy chefs and others considering relocating, there have been no applicants from southern Maine’s hard-hit hospitality industry. He said they were working on more targeted marketing to find employees.

The area in northwest Penobscot County and eastern Piscataquis County has, over the past century, had Baxter State Park. But the area’s popularity is growing with in-state and out-of-state visitors, fueled in part by the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, as well as regional campaigns marketing it as a four-season outdoor destination.

Polstein started his business in 1982, with a white-water rafting program, and made it one of the area’s top recreational draws. He has seen the region go from being a region bustling with booming factory towns to one that is feeling the effects of factory closures. But things are changing again, driven by the emphasis on outdoor recreation.

“Part of our enthusiasm for this project came from the enthusiasm for the Katahdin region as a whole,” he said. “There’s definitely a mood swing here.”