Celebrating the “Magic of the Open Road” with Revival of the National Scenic Byways Program

By February 19, 2021 News, Scenic Byways

Your support at work! Thank you, supporters of Scenic Michigan and Scenic America. We celebrate the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Feb. 16, 2021 announcement of 49 new designations to the America’s Byways® program, including 15 All-American Roads (AAR) and 34 National Scenic Byways (NSB) in 28 states. 

Michigan’s Copper Country Trail, River Road Scenic Byway and Woodward Avenue M-1 Automotive Heritage Trail are among the roads previously recognized by the National Scenic Byways Program, now totaling 184 America’s Byways® in 48 states. 

Established in 1991, the National Scenic Byways Program is a grass-roots collaborative effort of communities working with their state governments and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) which seeks to recognize, preserve and enhance some of America’s most outstanding roads. Roadways are recognized for their notable scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities. Communities can also apply for designation as state byway status, specifics of the state programs and sponsoring organizations and communities vary across the U.S. 

Scenic America, of which Scenic Michigan is an affiliate, led the efforts to revitalize and restore federal funding for the National Scenic Byways Program. The 2021 additions are the first to the program since 2009Scenic Michigan Board of Directors member David Betts underscores the importance of the program.  “Byways are beautiful but vulnerable places in Michigan and across the country. Restoring federal funding stream was long overdue, especially for rural scenic byways where resources are limited. We are eager to continue collaboration with the state and other partners to leverage federal funding on behalf of our communities. Restoration of this program brings exciting opportunities to secure national recognition and resources for existing Michigan-designated byways.” 

The “Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019 was signed into law in September 2019, restarting the application process for new federal byways designations, and marking a new era for current and prospective byways. Scenic Michigan and Scenic America will continue to advocate for the program’s long-term funding, FHWA consideration of applications on a rolling basis, and inclusion in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill that Congress will take up this sessionFHWA spokesperson told Scenic Michigan this week that grant opportunities for existing byways programs and training for state coordinators are still in the works and will be announced in future months.  

Local communities across the country will benefit from the revival of the National Scenic Byways Program. National recognition helps draw visitors, jobs and other benefits to communities along our scenic roads. “It’s exciting to think about how more American cities and towns will be able to leverage the scenic roadways.” said Mark Falzone, Scenic America President. 

Recognizing the impact of the National Scenic Byways Program on America’s travel and tourism industry and our own scenic conservation mission, Scenic America took the lead working with Congress to open a new nominations process and re-establish funding for the program. We are grateful to Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), and the nine Members who led the way to pass Public Law No. 116-57, The Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act, making (this) announcement possible,” said Scenic America President Mark Falzone. Congress included $16 million in funding for the program in the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted on December 29, 2020 — its first dedicated funding since 2012. 

In announcement of the 2021 program additions, FHWA Executive Director Tom Everett noted, “Through their many unique qualities, each of these new (49) additions to the National Scenic Byways Program helps America’s roads tell our national storyThese special routes offer travelers exciting new opportunities to explore the nation, from coast to coast or close to home. Scenic roads have always been popular with travelers and support a wide array of area businesses too. Whether hotels, eateries or gas stations, Scenic Byways and All-American Roads support the nation’s small business community and are economic drivers for entire regions.” 

The program’s revitalization comes at a critical time for our travel and tourism sectors as we contend with the devastating personal losses and impacts of COVID-19 on our robust hospitality industry, and on the state economy overall. Tourism is one of Michigan’s leading industries and the state attracts widespread resident and visitor travel. Michigan is home to 23 Byways, including 3 National Scenic Byways and 20 State Byways — our byways contribute to overall tourism. 

According to data compiled by Tourism Economics for the Michigan Tourism Office, Department of Community and Economic Development, in 2019 Michigan employment supported by visitor activity rose to 351,100 jobs, 6.1% of all employment in the state. Employment directly supported by visitor spending increased by 22,000 jobs between 2015 and 2019In 2019, 125.6 million visitors spent $26.3 billion in Michigan. Visitors generated $2.9 billion in state and local taxes, which is equivalent to $735 in tax savings for every household in Michigan. The National Park Service estimates that in 2018, 2.7 million park visitors in Michigan spent about $237 million in scenic gateway regions while visiting lands managed here by the National Park Services.