A new breakdown lane will be built just three feet from the 180-year-old cemetery.

KENNEBUNK (AP) – After seeing nothing but miles and miles of pine trees, the sight of a tiny cemetery in a clearing near Exit 3 always serves to grab the attention of weary motorists.

The cemetery dating back more than 100 years will become even more prominent as the turnpike widening resumes this spring: The extra lanes will bring the toll road within 3 to 5 feet of the cemetery.

For some tourists, the cemetery is as much a signal of one’s arrival in Maine as the sign that says, “Maine: The Way Life Should Be.”

“A lot of people tell us they don’t feel they’ve really arrived in Maine until they see that cemetery,” said Dan Paradee, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority in Portland.

The turnpike authority had hoped to avoid disturbing the cemetery as part of the toll road’s $135 million expansion from four lanes to six lanes along a 30-mile stretch between York and Portland.

John Roberts, right-of-way manager for the turnpike authority, said engineers were relieved to learn that the additional 12-foot travel lane and 12-foot breakdown lane would not encroach upon the cemetery.

That spared turnpike officials from the only other option they had: moving the entire cemetery to another location.

The 20-by-60-foot cemetery, which has 20 headstones, is formally known as the Mitchell-Hatch cemetery.

The first person to be buried there was Obediah Hatch, who was born in 1730 and died in 1819. The last person to be buried there was Eunice Littlefield, who died on Oct. 25, 1883.

Turnpike officials went to great lengths to research the cemetery, which is inactive and surrounded by trees.

There is no way to get to the cemetery other than walking through the woods; there’s no evidence that there was ever a road leading to it, said Roberts, who has tromped around the site.

As part of the widening, the Maine Turnpike Authority will install a guard rail to protect the cemetery.

The authority also will replace bent and broken railings and repair the granite posts bordering the cemetery. The headstones will be sealed to protect them from pollution and road salt.

In the winter, a chain link fence will be added to prevent snow from plows from covering the cemetery.

The part of the widening that will bring turnpike near the cemetery covers 2.3 miles between Wells and Kennebunk, Paradee said.

Contractors also plan to complete another 1.7-mile stretch of widening between Saco and Biddeford, and to finish the last two of 18 bridge projects needed to support the expanded lanes, he said.

That’ll leave only a widening of another 6 miles, mostly in Arundel, to complete the project in the summer of 2004.

In Kennebunk, the goal is to improve the appearance of the Mitchell-Hatch cemetery but not to make it so pretty that shutterbugs stop for a picture, something that would create a safety hazard, Paradee said.

Residents of Kennebunk seem to be satisfied by efforts to avoid desecrating the cemetery, said Town Manager Barry Tibbetts.

Like others, Tibbetts recalls the oddity of seeing the cemetery on his trips to Maine each summer when he was a boy.

“It’s a highly visible landmark coming into Maine,” said Tibbetts, who added, “It’s going to become much more visible.”

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