AUGUSTA — New signs, part of a batch of nearly 3,300 of them being installed statewide, have been popping up in central Maine recently marking bike and pedestrian routes along the Kennebec River Rail Trail that can take walkers and bikers from Calais to Florida.

The signs being put up by the state Department of Transportation mark the East Coast Greenway, of which the Kennebec River Rail Trail in Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Gardiner is a part. They also mark United States Bicycle Route 1, which provides a mapped-out route bicyclists can follow across the state, and The Eastern Trail in southern Maine in an effort to help guide and encourage bicyclists to use the routes, which are a combination of off-road trails and on-road recommended routes.

“There will be 3,280 signs statewide. We started installing them in September and they will all be up by Memorial Day,” said Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “These are bicycle and pedestrian-friendly routes for recreation and transportation. The idea is not unlike interstate signs. They help you stay on the route. Bike and pedestrian activity has increased over the years. The activity has, but access often hasn’t. We like to do what we can to accommodate alternative transportation.”

Locally, the new signs will direct bicyclists and pedestrians to the Kennebec River Rail Trail, which is part of the larger East Coast Greenway, a bike route combining trails and roads to take riders all the way from Calais to Key West, Florida.

Hallowell resident David Wood completed that 2,900-mile ride in 2004, back when only parts of the route were marked by signs in a few states.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Wood, now 78 and still riding, said of the addition of signs marking the East Coast Greenway across Maine. “A lot of people ride across the country. (The signs) will make it easier to find your way around.”

Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway, said getting the trail marked in Maine is significant.

“We are very proud of our partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation to sign our route that goes from Calais to Kittery in Maine,” he said. “Maine is one of our longest states and really a highlight, so it’s important to have these direction signs there. We always feature Maine as one of our end point states, so it is a higher importance for signing and we appreciate the DOT’s efforts.”

States along the route where the East Coast Greenway is fully marked by way-finding signs are Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Other states, Markatos-Soriano said, have signs on some, but not all, of the route.

Markatos-Soriano said they aim to have all 2,900 miles of the trail marked by signs by 2020 “to help people enjoy the natural beauty and wonderful cities and people all along the eastern seaboard. So users, in addition to our app, which has turn-by-turn directions, will have something physical as they walk, bike or run through these states. The routes, they’re not just for tourists. They’re for everyday people to get to school, get to work, do the errands they need to do.”

Talbot said the $75,000 project installing the 3,280 signs statewide is federally funded, some of it through the federal Safe Routes to Schools program.

Andy Hendrickson, of Farmingdale, a member of both the board of supervisors of the Kennebec River Rail Trail and a member of the board of directors of the Friends of Kennebec River Rail Trail, said the rail trail has been designated as part of the East Coast Greenway for about 10 years now. He said having the trail marked by signs and visibly designated as part of the East Coast Greenway should help attract tourists to come use the trail.

“It’s a great tourist-type attraction, like the Appalachian Trail,” Hendrickson said. “People get on their website and they may do a piece of it, or they may go all the way to Key West from Calais.”

The bike and pedestrian routes being marked through Maine are a combination of off-road trails and roads.

Markatos-Soriano said the East Coast Greenway recently increased the portion of the route that is not made up of roads to 30 percent with almost 900 miles of dedicated trails.

Trails must meet standards to be designated as part of the greenway, meeting requirements such as minimum width, and have a surface firm enough for road bikes. He said the public roads included as part of the route are the safest roads the organization could find to connect the trail sections to each other.

For now, after the 6.5-mile Kennebec River Rail Trail terminates in Gardiner, the East Coast Greenway Route leaves Gardiner on Route 126 to Lewiston.

Hendrickson said eventually he’s hoping the East Coast Greenway will follow the proposed, but unbuilt, 25-mile Merrymeeting Trail from Gardiner through Richmond and Bowdoinham and connecting to the 2.6-mile Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path in Brunswick and Topsham. However, constructing that trail has been projected to cost between $22 million and $50 million.

Markatos-Soriano said the East Coast Greenway has been put together over the last 24 years. He said the trail, unlike the Appalachian Trail, goes through all the major cities of the East Coast, providing access to a population of millions.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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