Byways 2021: A project of the Scenic Byways Coalition and America’s Byways Resource Center

S.O.S.: Saving Our Scenery along America’s Byways with Scenic Conservation Plans

America’s byways are one of our nation’s great assets. The visual character of the road, the landscape, and the communities a byway traverses greatly influence the traveler’s experience and leave a lasting impression. Unfortunately, that impression is too often tainted by the visual clutter of billboards and cell towers, by sprawl development, or by one-size-fits-all roadway designs that do little to reflect the historic, cultural, or visual context of an area.

As we maneuver into the 21st century, protecting the appearance of our scenic byways will require, in most cases, more than what a corridor management plan alone can address.

Byway organizations should:

  • develop a scenic conservation plan to inventory the visual assets along a byway, identify major issues and possible threats facing the corridor, and prioritize actions to address the concerns.
  • consider in the plan those actions possible along the roadway itself, within the corridor viewshed, within byway communities, or at any byway-marketed points of interest.
  • include strategies for reducing visual clutter, eliminating billboards, revitalizing a downtown Main Street, establishing scenic easements, or developing ordinances for siting wireless communication towers.

All byways have visual appeal. Our vision for the future should not be one in which the visual character or aesthetic values of a corridor are afterthoughts. We must strive to achieve conditions that enrich the byway experience, preserve its integrity and character, and reinforce the identity of its communities.

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Brad Cownover
About the author: Brad Cownover is the new Director of Scenic Conservation Services for the nonprofit, Scenic America. Scenic America is the only national nonprofit organization dedicated purposefully to preserving and enhancing the scenic character of America’s communities, countryside and public lands.

Read more about Brad Cownover

10 Responses to “S.O.S.: Saving Our Scenery along America’s Byways with Scenic Conservation Plans”

  1. Eric J. Hamilton Says:

    Succinctly and articulately expressed. Conserving our treasured places takes much more than a reactionary posture. To be effective we need to be proactive.

  2. Jana Abrams Says:

    As certain areas of the country become highly populated and over crowded, our byways are an escape back to the natural beauty of our country. Our byways need not become ‘busy’ but kept simple (no billboards and controlled signage)so the travelers can enjoy the beauty and unique qualities each of the byways has to offer.

  3. John LaBarge Says:

    This would kill the Byway Program in Vermont. We have our ACT 250 law which has become extremely regulatory and has made most of our towns angry. Most of the towns we have to deal with when people are considering a road for designation worry how much regulation goes with this program. We have spent many hours convincing local officials it does not regulate views or growth along the byway and this is not a top down program. Since the byways must fit within the corridor management plan, we tell them that it will be up to the local people to plan their byway. The three bullets in the essay are things that we tell the local people they have control of and they must make decisions on.

    If the Byways program becomes heavy with regulations or appears top down; then our towns will have nothing to do with the program. The one nice thing about this program is the lack of Big Brother oversight and the fact that it is local people calling their own shots for their own communities. Our job as coordinators is to explain what the byway is about. Byways are not just scenic. Some byways travel through industrial areas and these areas have a story to tell the traveler. We need to keep in mind that all intrinsic qualities are not necessarily scenic.

  4. Nancy Keith Says:

    We have succeeded as a 100-mile Greenway that includes expanding metropolitan areas and forests and trails by keeping a distance from regulation. (We do comment on local design guidelines when asked by the municipality). Instead, we try to encourage and celebrate design efforts that meet our goals. We recently published an 8-page brochure that recommends design choices to developers in the scenic corridor. It was mailed to all the landowners we could identify and all the municipal planning agencies and a number of private planners and designers. You can see it on our website: Pick the publications button then scroll down to Other Publications and look at “Building in the Mountains to Sound Greenway. You can download the whole brochure.

  5. Floyd Thompson Says:

    As a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects I must heartily agree with Brad. Yet, as an old New Englander, I could not abide by government as the sole solution. Danial shays WAr had alasting effect on the Yankee in us. Corridor plans do need to identify the core intrinsic values of a byway–but that might be as much cultural and historic as it is scenic. Much of what we see in the landscape are working landscapes; farmlands, ranches, mining ghost towns and old rail lines. Cell towers of today may soon become the airline beacons of the 30’s and 40’s. We need to preserve the soul of the land in byways–not just the aesthetic, though I believe they are not strangers to each other.

  6. Lynn Scharenbroich Says:

    If scenery is the intrinsic value that propelled a route to designation, then there’s no question that preserving it would likely be important to those managing the route. Not all routes have scenery as their prime feature. For routes based on history, culture or recreation, for example, their focus is probably not on regulating scenery.

    How wise of America’s Byways to help all of us work toward recharacterizing perceptions of byways by removing the confusing descriptor of ’scenic’ from the name. This is an important step in helping all of us remember that although America’s byways are truly beautiful, they are so much more than just scenery.

  7. Brad Cownover Says:

    Protection or enhancement of the visual character of a roadway does not have to be regulatory. It could be volunteer-driven; it could be incentive-based; it could be accomplished by design; or it could be addressed simply through education and awareness.

    The key is that while change may be inevitable, detrimental loss of a town or byway’s character doesn’t have to be.

    And while it is absolutely true that intrinsic qualities are not necessarily scenic; every byway (regardless of whether or not it was designated for a “scenic” intrinsic quality or not), has a visual appearance, a visual character, or as Floyd put it, a ’soul’.

    The questions become then; what is that character? what do the byway and communities along the byway want it to be? are there things occurring visually that contribute to the character and ’soul’ of the byway or take away from it?

    The challenge today is that intrinsic qualities can easily be eroded over time. While one action here or there may seem benign, cumulatively, these things add up. And before you know it, the value of the intrinsic quality and the character of the byway are lost.

    In that way, we encourage any steps to reinforce those visual or character-forming aspects of a byway that contribute in telling the byway’s ‘story’- and at the same time- help prevent it from being obscured or overshadowed by an unintended one.

  8. Mark Bremer Says:

    The Township of Madrid successfully thwarted two applications (Community Development Review Committee and the Board of County Commissioners) from Cingular Wireless to place a cellular tower in the Township only to have Cingular Wireless sue the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners under the auspices of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The County has re-opened Cingular Wireless application and will approve it at today’s BCC regularly scheduled meeting. We have ordinances that specifically prohibit citing towers on ridgetops and this ordinance was the basis for the two previous application denials.

    Apparently the Telecommunications Act of 1996 supercedes all local ordinances in this regard.

    Please consult your legal advisors on this important issue to all scenic byways.

  9. Floyd Thompson Says:

    Mark Bremer relates an important aspect of our system–what can trump scenic values. Homeowners Association’s face similar challenges to their protective covenants when regulating satellite dishes on homes in their neighborhoods–their is a right to have access and expression, yet some compromises can be negotiated. I think that is the key in what Brad is implying by volunteer efforts. When the community comes to know the value to them for preserving the whole of intrinsic values they tend support the asethetic or scenic quality. Getting the community involved in understanding the unique beauty in their places can generate many other spin off benefits; such donations of land, easements, bricks and mortar and most importantly their time.

  10. Thad Emerson Says:

    I strongly disagree with some of the points in this. I don’t think any conservationalist take into consideration the people who live along these byways. Yes the intrensic qualities are very important to us but also, we have to live and make a living on this land. I am a rancher in Nebraska and live right along a state & ,rumor has it, soon to be National Scenic Byway. Tourism is important to our economy but Agriculture is our life, we live here everyday and with everyday life in agriculture some things are unsitely or getting in the way with one of the intrensic qualities. We have to build corrals, fences, windmills, move dirt, tear down old buildings, build new barns, pump water out or in & dig ditches just to survive and keep our business (ranching) profitable. Also we are very remote and while it is nice for “city folk” to get away and see the beauty without there cell phone we need Cell towers built to be able to have better service for our phones. We have towers every 50 -60 miles not yards like “city folk.” It is nice to say that all these things need to be done to preserve our natural and historical beauty but before you sit in your town house and your sky rise office get out and get the opinion of the people your decisions are affecting.