Scenic Michigan Ambassadors

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Do you care deeply about protecting Michigan’s scenic resources? If so, we would love to have you join the Scenic Michigan Ambassador Program. Our mission is large, and it’s challenging to keep abreast of local issues and threats to scenic resources—so we’re hoping that you can help us be more effective and efficient in our work. We envision our ambassadors being our eyes and ears across the state . . . and occasionally, perhaps, even a spokesperson for Scenic Michigan.

By signing up to become an ambassador, you’re not committing yourself to anything but you are helping us identify who our strongest allies are across the state. To start, we’ll ask you to send us pictures of the “good, bad, and ugly,” keep us informed about issues you hear about in your local communities, and help us identify organizations and individuals we can partner with to become more effective in our work. And we’ll welcome any ideas you have for improving the reach of Scenic Michigan across the state. Send Erica an email at erica@scenicmichigan.org if you’re interested in joining our program or if you have questions.

M-134 North Huron Scenic Byway

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In 2015, M-134 was the first route to be designated as a Scenic Byway under the Pure Michigan Byways program, formally known as Michigan Heritage Routes. This byway is lined with forests, stunning lake views, and charming communities (go to mi134.com to learn more about the communities and attractions along this route). Regrettably, it is also marred in spots by obtrusive advertising signs that detract from the corridor’s beauty and conflict with the intent of the Pure Michigan Byways program.

Scenic Michigan member David Betts has been doing some outstanding work documenting the need for a corridor visual improvement program on M-134; he was the inspiration for our new Scenic Michigan Ambassador Program. Thanks to David’s in-depth research and documentation of signage blight, Scenic Michigan is aware of an issue affecting an important corridor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We’re looking forward to working with David and other partners in the area to build the local support needed for a corridor visual improvement program along M-134.

Meet Our New Executive Director

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Erica BriggsScenic Michigan’s board is excited to introduce our new executive director. In January, we hired Erica Briggs to lead Scenic Michigan. Erica worked closed with outgoing director Abby Dart to ensure a smooth transition in organizational leadership. We thank Abby for her years of service to Scenic Michigan and hope you will join with us in welcoming Erica to the Scenic Michigan family.

Erica comes to Scenic Michigan with an extensive background in nonprofit management, transportation and land use policy, communications, legislative affairs, and policy analysis. Her background is a great fit with Scenic Michigan’s needs and many of the goals our board identified in our recent strategic planning process.

As one of her first tasks, Erica has embarked on a listening tour to learn how Scenic Michigan can strengthen past partnerships and build new ones to advance our mission. In addition to meeting with organizational partners, she is interested in reaching out to current and past members to hear your ideas. However, one of her challenges in doing this is that we’ve realized we don’t have email addresses or phone numbers for most of you. Sending out paper mailings is both expensive and time consuming. If you’ve received this mailing, we implore you to take a moment to go to our website (www.scenicmichigan.org) and fill out the contact form prominently featured on our homepage (click the green button below our photo banner that says “Sign Up!”). Or, if you prefer, feel free to call us at 231-725-8116. We look forward to hearing from you soon. – Jim Lagowski

Developing a Scenic Roadmap for Michigan

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As you may recall from our last newsletter, thanks to the help of a generous donor, Scenic Michigan partnered with the Land Information Access Association in 2017 to produce a report outlining Michigan’s scenic roadway designations and the physical locations of these corridors. We are pleased to report back on some of our interesting findings in this newsletter and direct you to the Resources page on our website to access the full report/map.

We discovered there are approximately 1,450 miles of designated “byways” in Michigan organized in six road categories. The six categories are National Forest Scenic Byway (47 miles), National Scenic Byway (97 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Historic (413 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Recreation (438 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Scenic (223 miles), and Natural Beauty Road (229 miles). The majority of these roads are found in counties bordering the Great Lakes, but there are still hundreds of miles of roads that are inland. Of the 83 counties in Michigan, 43 have one or more road segments classified as National or State Byways, and 30 counties have one or more road segments classified as Natural Beauty Roads. Based on 2010 U.S. Census statistics, approximately 75 percent of the state’s population lives within ten miles of a scenic roadway, and approximately 93 percent of people in Michigan live within 25 miles of a scenic roadway.

In 2018, we’re embarking on a second phase of this project, which involves developing an interactive online map that will be located on our website and provide more detailed information about each scenic byway. We hope this map will not only inspire you to visit these notable corridors in our state, but also join our advocacy efforts to maintain and enhance their scenic beauty.

2018 City Beautiful Essay Contest

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Scenic Michigan and Keep Michigan Beautiful are pleased to announce the launch of our City Beautiful Essay Contest.  Each year, Scenic Michigan and Keep Michigan Beautiful plan to reach out to high school students around the state with the question “Does the appearance of your city matter?”.  We want to hear your stories and insights about how community design, beautification efforts, and scenic beauty impact your quality of life and the health of your community. This year we will present two $500 awards for the best essays we receive on this topic.

This essay contest is open to any high school student who is currently a senior or junior and attending a private or public school in Flint or Cheboygan, Michigan during the 2017-2018 school year. Essays must be received by Friday, May 18th, 2018 by 5pm.

Download essay contest rules and submission guidelines by clicking here.

Scenic Michigan Hires New Executive Director

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Erica Briggs

Scenic Michigan’s board is excited to announce that Erica Briggs has been hired to serve as Scenic Michigan’s new Executive Director. Briggs comes to Scenic Michigan with an extensive background in nonprofit management, transportation and land use policy, communications, legislative affairs, and policy analysis.

“I am thrilled to be working on Scenic Michigan’s important mission to preserve, protect, and enhance Michigan’s scenic resources,” Briggs said. “Michigan is a beautiful state and preserving and enhancing these assets is critical to our state’s economy and ensuring a high quality of life for current and future residents.”

Briggs is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Michigan State University and most recently served as a Program Manager at the Clean Energy Coalition in Ann Arbor. She serves on the Ann Arbor Planning Commission and currently chairs the board of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition.

Briggs lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, two sons, and two cats. She loves exploring scenic Michigan and enjoys biking, running, and camping.

President’s Message—Good News, Bad News

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The good news is that with the help of a major donor, we are completing a Michigan scenic road inventory, the first of its kind. These are roads that have already been designated scenic by some state or local agency. The work is being done by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA). It will help us target specific communities for our help in keeping designated scenic roads scenic. This targeting will help us make more efficient use of our resources. A next step will be to help identify roads that should be designated scenic, and identify ways to keep them scenic, free from the distraction and ugliness of billboards and other forms of roadside blight. A more detailed description of the project can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.

The bad news is that our longtime executive director Abby Dart has decided to retire in early 2018. We have begun the process to replace her with someone who will work with Abby to make a smooth transition in the day-to-day leadership. Those of you who know Abby know she will be sorely missed. If you know someone who should be considered to fill her position, please let me know. Might it be one of you?

City of Livonia receives Scenic Hero Award

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Award given to those who make a lasting contribution to preservation of scenic character

Each year, Scenic Michigan presents the Scenic Hero Award to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities. This year, Scenic Michigan is pleased to present our Scenic Hero Award to the City of Livonia and city attorney Mike Fisher for leading an outstanding and successful effort to prevent construction/addition of electronic/digital billboards in the City of Livonia—thus helping to prevent blight, driver distraction, and deterioration of the scenic qualities of Livonia.

The City of Livonia—with the leadership of Mike Fisher—have set an example for cities throughout Michigan who seek to improve both their visual appearance and quality of life for their residents. Scenic Michigan congratulates these scenic heroes for a job well done!

What’s in Your Sign Ordinance?

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Excerpt reprinted with permission from, “What’s In Your Sign Ordinance?”, which appeared in the November 2016 issue of Township Focus magazine, from the Michigan Townships Association.

Signs are protected by the constitutional right to free speech because they express a message—even if that message is only the time and date of an event. Most townships and municipalities in general have taken the right to free speech to mean that one message can’t be treated less favorably than another, regardless of the religious, political or other sentiment it conveys. Some violations are obvious—if your sign ordinance does not allow religious signs or bans certain political signs, that’s a clear First Amendment violation.

But last year, a U.S. Supreme Court decision took the concept of “content neutrality” much further. The crux of the decision is this: If you must read a sign in order to determine if it’s permitted, there is a serious question of whether your sign ordinance is not content-neutral. That means if your township has different regulations for real estate, political or garage sale signs, you could be in violation.

The decision In Gilbert, Ariz., a small church that met in elementary schools and other public buildings used temporary signs to advertise its services. The town’s sign ordinance did not allow outdoor signs without a permit but made an exception for 23 different types of signs. One of these types was temporary directional signs. The ordinance required that temporary directional signs only be displayed for certain amounts of time before and after an event and must include the date of an event. Church members were responsible for making sure the signs were posted on Saturday and then taken down on Sunday afternoon. However, when the church failed to take approved an ordinance that attempts to strike the difficult balance of preventing sign clutter while also regulating solely by size, location and physical characteristics

It’s new territory for the township—and for local governments throughout Michigan and the United States. Regulating signage is an important job for township planning and zoning officials, as well as the township board. Signs don’t just impact your township’s appearance—they can also affect safety. It’s up to your township to make sure signs are at a proper setback from the road and don’t distract drivers.

But because of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision—Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, Ariz.—virtually every township must now reconsider how it accomplishes this job. A group of attorneys is currently working to create a model ordinance or guidelines for municipalities—including MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, attorney at Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC. The group hopes to release some kind of guidance by the end of the year. Until then, townships should take another look at their sign ordinance and ask for assistance from their attorney. “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral,” Kaufman said. “They should ask for assistance from their township attorney or from a municipal attorney. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” Keeping your township beautiful

Nonprofit organization Scenic Michigan has long advocated for the regulation of signs as a way to preserve a community’s appearance and character. Larry Keisling, a Scenic Michigan board member and former planning director for the City of Troy, believes that while signs are necessary, too many of them in one small area make a community look cluttered, whether it’s a downtown or a wooded countryside. If sign sizes and setbacks aren’t regulated, they can put drivers and pedestrians alike at risk. At the same time, businesses, nonprofits and anyone with an event to advertise count on signs to let the public know about their event or product. Signs are crucial in political campaigns. And some homeowners just like to place signs in their yard to convey a general message. Most townships have some kind of sign ordinance, which is generally done through the township’s zoning, though it’s also possible to regulate by police power ordinance. The goal in most cases is to allow people, businesses and organizations to advertise and exercise their right to free speech while also keeping their township from being covered in out-of-control signage. Most ordinances control signs by setting limits on their size, height, location and setback from the road. While this sounds simple, sign ordinances tend to be complicated. It’s a common practice to categorize temporary signs by their content and then regulate them differently.

What’s in your sign ordinance? “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” —MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, Attorney, Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC

Scenic Michigan to work with Land Information Access Association to create scenic road map

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Scenic Michigan is a coalition of grassroots organizations, elected officials, and interested citizens working to preserve and enhance the scenic quality of Michigan’s roadways. One tool Scenic Michigan has historically supported is the designation of “scenic roads.”

However, despite the common application of this tool throughout the state, it remains unclear how roads receive such a designation, how many have received it, and where all of the roads are located. In response to a discussion with Scenic Michigan board member Jim Lagowski, the Land Information Access Association proposes to help clarify scenic road designations in Michigan. This proposal is based on the tasks specified in our conversation with Mr. Lagowski and the experience of LIAA staff.

We expect geographic information system (GIS) specialist Paul Riess will be LIAA’s prime professional engaged in the successful completion of this research and mapping effort. A geographer and cartographer, Paul has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing spatial databases, designing GIS systems, and teaching GIS operations. He has extensive experience in the development of geographic data and mapping for city, township, and county master plans, recreation plans, corridor plans and natural resource management plans. A biogeographer, he holds a B.S. in Biology and Geography and an M.S. in Biology from Andrews University as well as an M.A. in Geography from Western Michigan University.

LIAA will research and aggregate all the different scenic road designations that currently exist in Michigan. Some initial research has found that there are a number of national, state and local roadway designations throughout Michigan. LIAA staff will work to get GIS data for each road designation, and research the process and criteria for the different designations.

Once the data is collected, LIAA will develop a comprehensive map of all the designated scenic roads in Michigan. The final map will be available in both a print and digital version.