On February 16, 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation added 49 new members to America’s Byways® collection, including 15 All-American Roads and 34 National Scenic Byways in 28 states. This increases the number of federally-designated byways to 184.
This is great news for small, rural communities across the country. It is for my Byway friends here in Colorado. For four years the Byway Program with the Federal Highways Department has been
leading a quiet life. Once supported with resources, both financial and human, the program was a great tool to support “boots on the ground” grassroots efforts to enhance visitor experiences along these unique systems of roads. These byways brought adventure seekers into parts of the country almost forgotten as new highways were built to move commerce, and we-the-travelers, more quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we have forgotten how to appreciate the things you only notice when you are moving at a more leisurely pace.
This new breath of life from the U. S. Department of Transportation means the Byway Program is back on the radar. It is coupled with a small fund designation to help grease the wheels for future possibilities and there renewed energy in the program.
What? You haven’t heard about byways before. What are they, you ask? The routes are selected based upon their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities. Passionate locals in the community work together to tout the intrinsic values of their proposed byway. They garner support from local businesses, chambers, elected officials, land managers, and the public in order to pursue the sought-after national designation.
To quote the fhwa.dot.gov website: “America’s Byways® is the umbrella term we use for marketing the collection of distinct and diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. America’s Byways include the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads.
Our definition of “scenic” reaches beyond breathtaking vistas. All of America’s Byways® are “scenic”, representing the depth and breadth of scenery in America–natural and man-made panoramas; electrifying neon landscapes; ancient and modern history coming alive; native arts and culture; and scenes of friends, families, and strangers sharing their stories.
America’s Byways® are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same. The Federal Highway Administration invites you to come closer to America!” This definition works great, but it doesn’t mention the hours of community meetings, sometimes with irritating people; the cookies baked for the meetings; the letters of support needed; the revision to your Corridor Management Plan (that’s like a business plan for byways); updates to your byway marketing plan; and sleepless nights waiting to see if months of work has paid off.
Why do byways work so hard to get this designation? Remember I mentioned that they are “boots on the ground” organizations run by the citizens along the route. They are you and me. They take pride in their byway, like people take pride in their child’s first word, their dog learning to sit, and even bigger things like a college degree. Byways are the threads of stories about the place through which you are passing. We want to engage you in our story with our byway, and we want our story to be designated important enough to get you to stop.
There are also state scenic byways, back-country byways, tribal lands byways, Forest Service byways, and more, to be sure, but these are the cream of the crop.
You might want to check out the byways in your state. After all, “it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”