Route 1 relic hunters have decimated almost every section of the iconic coastal highway, including this stretch of Main Street, Machias, where passersby captured this photo of one “Route 1 bandit” making off with a chunk of asphalt which could sell for as much as $4,122 on the burgeoning black rock market. Photo by Sarah Craighead Dedmon

Officials plead with relic collectors: stop taking chunks of Route 1

by Sarah Craighead Dedmon

Route 1 has fallen into disrepair as collectors and dealers are chipping away pieces for themselves and to sell as “true relics” of Maine's historic coastal highway. Now, local officials are speaking out to stop the damage.

“We know Route 1 has a special place in the hearts of Mainers and visitors, but they have got to stop taking chunks of it home with them,” said Machias Town Manager Bill Kitchen, who last week had to replace a wheel on his car. “It’s ripping apart Main Street.”

Route 1’s long-standing reputation as the “Smooth Superhighway of Washington County” has been called into question since the asphalt collection craze began last year. Rep. Will Tuell (R-E. Machias) said he’s frustrated, having spent years pushing to get part of the East Machias roadway repaved.

“Now it looks like the bandits are attacking literally every other stretch of Route 1,” said Tuell. “DOT can’t keep up with all the reports.”

Machias drivers have complained of dislodged dental work since souvenir hunters have removed almost all of the center section of Main Street. Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis says in other parts of the county, his deputies are writing accident reports that border on science fiction. 

“Last week we responded to a fender bender between two cars where both drivers said they couldn’t see due to shaking eyeballs, and our deputies almost blacked out getting to the scene,” said Curtis. “It’s foolish. Chuck Yeager would have had a hard time driving under these conditions.” 

As of press time, the sheriff’s office has issued roughly 1,234.63 tickets to relic hunters, many of whom work under cover of darkness. Others are brazen, like the man this newspaper captured taking a souvenir in broad daylight (see photo). 

Traditionally, Maine’s visitors often leave with “pocket rocks” as souvenirs from beaches, like Jasper Beach in Bucks Harbor. Though some express concern that beach rock collecting could ultimately remove too many rocks from Maine’s beaches, David Wood of Machiasport says Jasper Beach is in less danger of disappearing from rock collection than Route 1. 

“In fact, I think Jasper Beach is a smoother ride than Route 1,” said Wood. 

Anyone witnessing acts of Route 1 souvenir collecting is urged to report it to the sheriff’s office or the Federal Office of Outlandish Looting and Stealing by calling 1-800-555-4141.

Addison bus driver Ronie Strout said she scolds Route 1 bandits as often as she sees them, but the damage is already beyond her ability to navigate safely with children on board. “Last week the roadway was there, this week it wasn’t,” said Strout, shaking her head. “We’re just lucky they were able to tow the bus back out.” Photo courtesy Ryan Malagara / Drones Eye View Inc.

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