The state had held off on posting signs while the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was under review by the Trump administration.
By Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA — The LePage administration has agreed to allow signs on Interstate 95 and state highways directing drivers to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, more than a year and a half after the monument officially opened.
Last May, the Maine Department of Transportation told officials with the National Park Service that it would be “imprudent and premature” to erect signs while the Trump administration reviewed the status of the roughly 87,500-acre national monument. Gov. Paul LePage, a vocal opponent of the monument, had successfully lobbied President Trump to include Katahdin Woods and Waters in the controversial review of more than two dozen monuments nationwide.
Now that the review is complete and the monument’s designation is no longer in question, the Department of Transportation “is working with U.S. Department of Interior officials to expedite the production and installation of the KWWNM signs,” LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said in an email. The park service renewed its request in a March 28 letter to Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.
“The final recommendations from the monument review were released to the public by the Secretary of the Interior in early December 2017 and did not include any recommendations that would change the size or location of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument,” Tim Hudson, superintendent of Katahdin Woods and Waters, wrote to Bernhardt. “We would like to formally request approval of the installation of signage that will direct the public to the monument.”
The park service has requested approval to install six signs on I-95 at exits 244, 264 and 276 directing visitors to the two entrances to the monument. Additionally, the park service is requesting 11 signs on Route 11 and Route 159 in Medway, Sherman, Patten and Island Falls.
Rabinowitz said there was “no installation schedule as of yet.”
Just east of Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was officially created by President Obama in August 2016 by executive order. A nonprofit created by conservationist and business entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby had donated the 87,500 acres to the federal government after years of heated debate over the potential benefits and drawbacks of a national park or monument in the Katahdin region.
While support for the monument in the region has since grown, LePage and some critics urged Trump to reverse the designation or shrink the size of the monument. During testimony last May before a congressional committee, LePage predicted that few tourists would make the trip to Maine’s “mosquito area” to visit “cutover” timberlands that only offer views of mile-high Mount Katahdin. And his administration’s decision not to allow signs on I-95 or Route 11 was viewed by monument supporters as just another attempt to undermine the monument.
But despite LePage’s predictions and the lack of signs, tens of thousands of people have visited Katahdin Woods and Waters during the first year and a half of its existence. Business owners and real estate agents in the Katahdin region have reported that the monument has also spurred additional business in an area that has struggled to recover from the loss of several major paper mills and turbulence in the forest products industry.