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With over 2,000 miles designated throughout the Commonwealth, Virginia has an excellent system of scenic byways. They are a lure to the traveler and offer visitors a chance to see the state at its most beautiful.
With plans underway for the 400th anniversary celebration in 2007 of the settling of Jamestown, now is an excellent time for communities all over the state to propose their most beautiful roads for state scenic byway designation. Tourists coming for the celebration will visit many parts of Virginia. What better way to draw them to an area than by a scenic byway designation?
Scenic Virginia actively encourages community residents to apply for scenic byway designation for their roads, especially in those areas of the state that have few scenic byways. With the exception of Routes 3 and 5, there are no scenic byways in a vast area of the state east of Richmond, between Fredericksburg and Jamestown. This region is exceptionally beautiful and could benefit, now more than ever, from such attention. Thousands of visitors will be drawn to Jamestown and will want to include scenic byways in their travel plans.
A survey of tourism-related businesses along two scenic byways in Colorado showed that a majority of business owners estimated a 10% increase in sales due to byway designation. A US Travel Data Center study looked at the economic impacts of 1,600 miles of designated scenic roads all over the country. The study found that travelers spent almost $48 million while traveling on these roads, generating 920 jobs and $9 million in payroll income. Of travelers surveyed on two scenic byways in New Hampshire, 96% said they "always" or "sometimes" consider scenic routes in their travel plans. Wouldn't it be great if Virginia had new ones to add to their list?
Planning a trip to historic places? Travel itineraries featuring historic buildings and sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places are now available on the World Wide Web from the National Park Service. The web address is www.cr.nps.gov/nr/tourism.html. Thanks to the research efforts of Scenic America, a travel itinerary in the Virginia Piedmont is being developed for the site. The tour follows the rich Journey Through Hallowed Ground corridor, which includes Madison's Montpelier and Jefferson's Monticello, starting with Route 15 at the Potomac and changing to Route 20 at Orange, ending at Charlottesville. When completed, the National Register of Historic Places will add the itinerary to their web site, encouraging armchair and actual tourists to enjoy the properties-while offering Piedmont residents another reason to protect their scenic and historic landscape.
Madison County, Virginia upheld scenic byway status for a two-lane highway that winds through
50 miles of farms and villages on the eastern flank of Shenandoah National Park and the Blue
Ridge Mountains. County officials had considered rescinding the byway designation for
Route 231 after several business owners complained it prohibited them from erecting
"off-premise" signs. But an overwhelming number of businesses, including the county
chamber of commerce and 46 merchants from Madison, the county seat, presented the county
supervisors with a petition urging Route 231's continued status as a scenic byway. An
owner of a bed and breakfast testified to a three-fold increase in business since the byway's
designation. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that scenic byway
designation generates at least a 5 percent increase in tourist traffic.
Threatened by present plans to upgrade a 9.8-mile section of U.S. 17 just east of it, preservation of The Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge and Canal is one of the top priorities of the Chesapeake Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, The Izaak Walton League and the Dismal Swamp Coalition.
As early as 1976, the Secretary of the Interior, numerous planning and natural resource agencies, and conservation groups noted the tremendous scenic and recreational potential of the Canal and existing roadway. At that time a recommendation was made that the existing roadway be designated a scenic highway, and that when it became necessary to upgrade Route 17, the entire roadway should be moved to the east a considerable distance, to minimize the environmental, cultural, and aesthetic impacts on the area.
Several alternative routes have been proposed, but the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) favors expanding the existing highway along the bank of the Dismal Swamp Canal, to a 4-lane divided highway.
Environmental regulatory and advisory agencies, including the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and several wildlife biologists, have expressed serious concerns regarding the impact the Route 17 project will have, as currently planned, on wetlands, wildlife, historic, cultural, and recreational resources, and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The regulatory agencies have identified serious problems with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by VDOT for this project and indicate that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and VDOT have been uncooperative and unresponsive in addressing the agencies' concerns.
As a recent editorial in The Virginian-Pilot says, "Ideally, the currently two-lane road would be swung further east, away from the swamp, and declared a scenic highway. The Great Dismal Swamp is truly a national treasure that should be preserved. It is part of our heritage. It bears a terrific name, one celebrated in literature. For our children, our grandchildren, ourselves, we must protect the Great Dismal Swamp."
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