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Maine national monument highway signs are going up _ finally

October 30, 2019 GMT
In this photo provided by Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water, contractors install a sign directing motorists to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Sherman, Maine. The sign is one of 22 that will be installed before month's end on state roads and on Interstate 95. (Kala Rush/Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water via AP)
In this photo provided by Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water, contractors install a sign directing motorists to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Sherman, Maine. The sign is one of 22 that will be installed before month's end on state roads and on Interstate 95. (Kala Rush/Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water via AP)

After three long years, motorists are getting some help finding Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument with the installation of highway signs.

The first of 22 signs was put in the ground Wednesday in Sherman, Maine, after a long delay that was partly caused by politics. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration refused to allow signs for more than a year. A government shutdown contributed to the delay in lining up the contracts to install the signs.

Katahdin Woods and Waters Superintendent Tim Hudson said it’s a relief that he’ll no longer have to explain to local residents why there are no highway signs along Interstate 95 and state routes in the region.

“It’s been a long trek,” Hudson said Wednesday.

Managed by the National Park Service, Katahdin Woods and Waters is comprised of 87,500 acres (35,410 hectares) east of Baxter State Park. It includes a 17-mile loop road with stunning views of Mount Katahdin, the tallest peak in Maine. There also are trails for hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling, along with paddling on the Penobscot River’s East Branch.

Its creation wasn’t without controversy. Many residents in the Katahdin region initially opposed federal ownership of the land, which was donated by the family of Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby.

Those critics included LePage.

After the monument was established by then-President Barack Obama, the governor forbade the Maine Department of Transportation from installing signs during a Trump administration review of national monument designations by predecessors.

That initial holdup amounted to 18 months but the troubles continued after the LePage administration relented. An ill-timed government shutdown that lasted 35 days caused further delays. Then the first round of contracts were deemed unsuitable, leading to even more delays, Hudson said.

Ultimately, the signs were manufactured last year and spent the winter and summer in storage before a plan was put in place to set them in the ground.

Andrew Bossie, executive director of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, said the road signs will be “a welcome sight” for visitors and local businesses alike.

Statistics show a steady increase in the number of visitors, growing from more than 14,000 people in the first full year in 2017; the figure will top 20,000 in 2019.

Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son who pressed for federal designation, called the signs “the most transformative step since the monument was created.”

“I am very excited and believe that it will continue to grow visitation and turn more and more people on to the beauty and enjoyment that exists in the Katahdin Region,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.