Scenic Byways Coalition Launches "Byways 2021"

The American Recreation Coalition’s Derrick Crandall, and Kevin Fry, President of Scenic America, were guest speakers at the bi-monthly Byway Leader Tele-Workshop sponsored by America’s Byways Resource Center on February 1. Speaking to byway leaders from around the nation, Mr. Crandall recalled the beginnings of the Scenic Byways Program, which was established by Congress in 1991. A new effort to insure an exciting future for America’s byways is now underway, he said, led by the same coalition of organizations whose work was key to the creation of the National Scenic Byways Program. These efforts are inspired by two considerations: the program’s marvelous successes, which can and should be celebrated at the 15th anniversary of the program’s creation in December 2006, and the uncertainties ahead posed by a now-underway analysis of federal surface transportation programs – including scenic byways – which is likely to shape the next major federal highway bill, according to Mr. Crandall. The effort has a simple name reflecting its strong focus on the future: Byways 2021.

Kevin Fry, of Scenic America, an original coalition member and a strong advocate for the Scenic Byways Program, stressed that individual byways should incorporate the national byway system “brand” into their marketing and promotion efforts in order to build national popular and political support for the program. “You are in the political arena”, he said, “so involving local, state and federal officials at every opportunity is crucial.” He suggested using the 15th birthday of the byways program to have public events – cutting cakes and ribbons, announcing websites and underscoring the environmental, economic and social benefits of byways in bylined articles.

The Byways 2021 effort will include three key activities in 2006, Mr. Crandall explained. The first will be an effort to better highlight successes, of the byways program to date – richer and more accessible. The goal is to make information about funded projects readily available and searchable on the Internet and to spotlight especially meritorious projects and their sponsors on a regular basis. The America’s Byways Resource Center and ARC will join to lead this effort.

A second and especially exciting effort is the creation of a blue-ribbon panel which will solicit and consider recommendations from all byways interests about the future of the national byways program. The panel has been created to recommend goals which reflect a consensus of the diverse supporters of byways – and some priorities for meeting those goals. The recommendations may include new “tools” requiring action by Congress or the Administration – or by the entire network of byways interests. The panel is expected to consider means to harness new technologies to better tell the stories of our byways and to consider innovative ways to coordinate the byways efforts of states, federal land managing agencies and Native American tribes. What is especially exciting is the stature of those who have been invited to serve on the panel – long-time byways champions who have served in prominent government posts as well as with organizations which are household names. The roll-out of the panel is expected in February. The panel is likely to hold several public meetings in cooperation with meetings of byways supporting organizations, including one in Washington during Great Outdoors Month – June – and complete its efforts by the late fall of 2006.

The third key activity is a major national forum in Washington that will coincide with the December 2006 15th anniversary of the National Scenic Byways Program. The forum will highlight accomplishments since 1991, honor current byways champions and serve as the forum for discussion of the blue-ribbon panel’s recommendations. The event will also be an opportunity to introduce and celebrate new national champions of the byways program – champions who will invest the same level of energy over the next 15 years that champions like U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar have invested to make our current successes possible.

Complimenting these coordinated efforts will be numerous other byways activities by key national organizations. Already, organizations which are proud of the results of their early byways efforts have announced plans to focus on the byways program in magazines and annual meetings over the course of 2006 – and thus rebuild membership interest in the program.

In closing, Mr. Crandall told the byway leaders, this activity will only succeed if the byways infrastructure – state coordinators and byways managers and others across the nation – become involved in two ways. “We need to know about your best accomplishments over the past 15 years, your dreams for the future and the kind of support which you need from the national program to succeed in your efforts.” Echoing Mr. Fry, he urged byway leaders “to give America’s elected leaders at the local, state and national level opportunities for involvement in our successes.”

Among the organizations working together on Byways 2021, are Scenic America and the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Bus Association and AAA, the American Recreation Coalition and the National Tour Association, AASHTO and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association – and literally dozens more. The organizations will also be consulting with current and former Members of Congress and Department of Transportation officials who have helped shape the current program.