Katahdin Gear Library General Manager Baileigh Studer, right, helps Eric Humes of Phippsburg after Humes and his wife picked up Nordic skis to try around their second home in Millinocket. Deirdre Fleming photo

MILLINOCKET — Tammie Doughty believes in supporting the resources that help bond a community, so when she and her husband moved from Brewer to Millinocket in 2019, she got a library card. Doughty had no idea the kind of resources awaiting her. 

The Millinocket Memorial Library had just launched a unique program that – along with books – loaned out a vast array of outdoor equipment, including canoes, kayaks, fat bikes and skis. 

While many libraries in Maine and around the country loan items other than books – embracing the popular library-of-things concept – no other library in the state owns and loans out the bevy of outdoor gear offered by the Millinocket library. Since it opened five years ago, its Katahdin Gear Library continues to expand and evolve, and now operates from a storefront on Penobscot Avenue in downtown Millinocket.

Many libraries across the nation loan tools for activities like gardening, carpentry and cooking. The Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick is a good example with its large cache of crafts, cooking supplies and gardening tools. Other libraries in Maine loan snowshoes or telescopes to encourage patrons to get outside – such as those in Readfield, Norway and Cumberland.

But the Katahdin Gear Library alone loans a wealth of outdoor gear such as paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, mountain bikes, Nordic skis and backpacks. Residents of Millinocket and surrounding towns may check out the gear for two days for free before they must pay a small fee to keep it checked out for longer. The library’s effort has inspired rural libraries in Maine and as far away as Virginia.

“Part of the original idea of the gear library was about revitalizing the community, the downtown,” said Matt DeLaney, the former Millinocket librarian who helped start the gear library and now is a librarian in Bar Harbor.


“It was a combination of getting the gear but also helping to build up the downtown. Gear is so expensive for a lot of kids in Millinocket, if they saw a mountain bike that costs $2,000, that bike is so inaccessible. We wanted to create something they could participate in, belong to.”

Part of the reason other libraries don’t loan out outdoor equipment at the scale of the Katahdin Gear Library, DeLaney surmised, might be because of the significant space needed to store it.

Before it opened in 2018, DeLaney and Diana Furukawa, who was then the volunteer coordinator at the Millinocket library and is now its director, were looking for ways to engage the community and make the library more relevant. For a library located just miles from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, loaning out outdoor gear was a no-brainer.

With help from the Millinocket-based nonprofit Outdoor Sports Institute – which has the mission of helping people in rural communities get outdoors – they equipped the library with hundreds of pieces of outdoor gear. Soon, the Katahdin Gear Library was born. 

The Katahdin Gear Library initially operated out of the Millinocket Memorial Library in 2018, but in January moved to a storefront in downtown Millinocket. Residents of Millinocket and surrounding towns may check out the gear for two days for free before they must pay a small fee to keep it checked out for longer. Deirdre Fleming photo

Last weekend when Doughty stopped by to drop off the pair of cross-country skis she checked out, she stood outside the brightly painted storefront that her new hometown has embraced.

“Everyone needs to get outside for their well-being, their psyche. Being outdoors is so good for you, so tranquil, holistic. You can get back to basics,” Doughty said. “I thought the library was just a library. This is awesome. Where else can you get a bike loaned out?”


At first, a library card was needed to check out the outdoor gear from the Katahdin Gear Library. Today, proof of residency is all that’s needed. Furukawa said there has been no blueprint for any of it.

“I wish there was a template we could follow. It’s definitely a little ambitious,” Furukawa said. “But we want to get people outside across the region. There are a lot of resource we can share, tools that enhance our lives, that connect us to place and people. Books is one. So is outdoor gear.”

This winter, Zachary Elder, the director of the library in Harrisonburg, Virginia, called Mike Smith at the Outdoor Sports Institute to ask how the Katahdin Gear Library worked. The Massanutten Regional Library in Virginia partnered with the local Community Gear Library, a nonprofit run by outdoors enthusiasts and park rangers, to provide camping equipment to library members starting this summer. Elder hopes to add mountain bikes in the years ahead.

The Katahdin Gear Library, Elder said, was the only similar model he could find in the country.

“We’re in an area that reveres the outdoors in the Shenandoah Valley. And getting gear together can be expensive, especially if you just want to try an activity,” said Elder, whose library also is located near the Appalachian Trail.

Furukawa said the benefits go beyond making the outdoors more accessible. The Katahdin Gear Library brings strangers together. Last summer, a woman’s trail running group met at the gear library, as did the Millinocket Walkers and Wheelers, a group that included parents with strollers and a wheelchair user.


In Readfield, librarian Melissa Small wants to follow the example. She hopes to grow a small collection of 15 snowshoes to include Nordic skis. She asked Furukawa for advice on how to make that happen.

“It’s a nice way to reach people. We live in a beautiful area, we should promote that,” said Small, who led full-moon snowshoe hikes from the library the past two winters.

In the coming weeks, the Katahdin Gear Library will shift from loaning out snowshoes, Nordic skis and fat bikes to kayaks, canoes, mountain bikes and backpacks. Baileigh Studer, the gear library’s first general manager, expects a busy summer. 

A local couple from Phippsburg who stopped in last weekend to check out skis can’t wait.

“It’s amazing, they have kayaks and (stand-up paddleboards). We will be back to try the SUPs,” said Eric Humes as he and his wife picked up Nordic skis and boots. They own a second home in Millinocket.

“We work in real estate,so we can work from our home here. We were here two weeks in February, two weeks in March. We ice fish in front of our home. We plan to take the skis right out on the lake. We love it here.”

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