Please Note: Because the National Scenic Byways Program is no longer funded, FHWA is no longer soliciting grant applications. Without funding for the Program, FHWA will not be moving forward with another round of designations of America's Byways® at this time.
[See Issue 4, "Byway Categories"]
To best assess the geographic and intrinsic quality diversity of the National Scenic Byways Program, the existing evaluation tools, based on local grassroots interpretation, may need to be refined. While the local assessments for individual byway resources have been generally accurate, and by most evaluations correct (based on Program definitions and directives), the tools, as a whole, cannot distinguish local/regional interpretations and values associated with the Program's six intrinsic qualities. As such, they do not provide sufficient data to allow the NSBP to present a comprehensive summation of the America's Byways® collection. The uniqueness of the Program's 126 byways has overshadowed the common threads, resources and themes that provide unity to the collection.
For marketing visitor and program goals, the National Scenic Byways Program needs a method for evaluation that can better assess the diversity of the collection by offering valuable comparisons among byways and regions, and identifying potential goals for new additions to the Program. This method needs to be sufficiently flexible to respect the grassroots interpretations of individual byways, while also enhancing the Federal program's ability to assist local byways based on a more comprehensive understanding of the system as a whole. What is needed is a method that is flexible, universally adaptable to all regions and byway types, conforms to existing statutory and Program mandates, is logical enough to ensure its embrace at the local level, and easily undertaken by FHWA program staff.
Prospective byways are currently required to present their distinguishing characteristics for program designation in terms of intrinsic qualities and byway themes (see Analysis: Appendix E and Appendix F). The following recommendations have been developed to provide the National Scenic Byways Program with a method to better capture the diversity of America's Byways®. This is not intended as a definitive last word on the collection, but rather a potential tool to better assist FHWA in its continued success at building the Program and showcasing the great drives of America.
The statute that creates the National Scenic Byways Program uses the phrase "scenic, historical, recreational, cultural, natural, and archeological" four times, itemizing "qualities" to be recognized, "characteristics" to be maintained, and "resources" and "integrity" to be protected. The Interim Policy for the Program adds definitions of the six "intrinsic qualities" and requires a demonstration of significance in at least one of these qualities for designation as a National Scenic Byway and at least two for All-American Road designation. However, the Program has required nominations to propose only one intrinsic quality for National Scenic Byway designation (two for All-American Road designation) in order to encourage byway sponsors to focus on the most important attributes of their byways.
The distinctions among some of the six intrinsic qualities can be quite subtle, and it is not always easy to decide which quality is best represented by a particular group of resources along a byway. For example, is a byway along a pristine river with extensive rapids "natural" because of the geologic story it tells, "scenic" because of the aesthetic enjoyment one experiences driving along it, or "recreational" for the fishing and paddling opportunities it provides?
More importantly, do these distinctions really matter, and do they advance the Program's fundamental purpose as expressed in the statute? Or do they unnecessarily complicate the evolution of the Program as a collection of byways that communities and visitors can easily comprehend and use? If the river route is an exceptional driving experience for a variety of reasons that are all interrelated, should a nomination applicant have to choose "scenic" to the exclusion of "natural" and "recreational" qualities?
The six intrinsic qualities are useful categories to help guide advocates in identifying and connecting the resources along a byway, but many byways have found it difficult to identify a single intrinsic quality that captures the collective experience of the entire route. Naturally, local advocates try to make a case for what they feel is their byway's strongest "intrinsic quality," which may or may not be intrinsic to the true significance of the byway. Capping the number of intrinsic qualities that may be identified for national byway designation may thus distort or dilute the Program's goals of protecting and promoting significant resources and qualities.
The branding of National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads as America's Byways® in 2000 simplifies the marketing and visitor understanding, and also begins to address the confusion of "scenic" as both a program title and one of six equally weighted intrinsic qualities. As we consider the diversity and completeness of the collection through the six intrinsic qualities—scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archaeological and recreational—we must consider each quality equally as a destination quality.
The legislation establishing the National Scenic Byways Program listed six intrinsic qualities to characterize resources desired to structure America's Byways®. The intrinsic qualities define the resource base that is the foundation of the Program. These six qualities have been well documented and identified by the individual byways in the collection, but they also have, by their subjective nature, led to varied interpretations by the different byways. While unique resources support these varied interpretations, they also make it difficult to assess the overall resource diversity of the Program. For example, does a lakeshore represent a scenic quality due to its beautiful setting in the landscape, an example of the natural quality as representative of an inland lake, or a recreational quality for those that choose to paddle its placid waters? Is the stone foundation of a round barn historic as a nineteenth-century structure, cultural as an artifact associated with the work ethic of the community that constructed it, or archaeological as a remain of past farming activity?
All the intrinsic qualities in these examples are relevant, and all, or combinations thereof, can be documented based on the definitions in the Program legislation. Thus a conflict is created: how to assess the diversity of the byway resource without limiting the local valuation and interpretation of byway resources.
On detailed analysis of the intrinsic qualities of the collection, there are great variations in individual byway identification among the six intrinsic qualities. The following chart shows the number of byways that have been nationally designated for each intrinsic quality, along with the total number of byways that have important resources for each quality (i.e., including those byways that were designated for a different intrinsic quality). The difference between the number of byways that are "designated" and "potential" for each intrinsic quality is an indication of the interrelatedness of the six qualities, and also suggests the degree to which the distribution of designated qualities is affected by the requirement that only one or two qualities be used for designation.
What at first appears a disparity quickly coalesces when the intrinsic qualities are grouped into two clusters: "scenic" (scenic, natural and recreational) and "heritage" (historic, cultural and archaeological).
This clustering suggests two broad categories: those primarily associated with the land, and those primarily associated with people. These may be categorized as "scenic" and "heritage" byways. These categories retain the term "scenic byway" for what it is most commonly associated in the mind of the general public—a pleasant and attractive drive. It establishes the term "heritage byway" to capture the intrinsic qualities associated most with people by using a term that has been employed by many existing State byways and in the growing number of heritage corridors. Additionally, for the international visitor, the term "heritage" is more generally used in the rest of the world to capture what in the United States is generally referred to as history or culture.
The clustering of America's Byways® as scenic and heritage byways may still be incomplete: for example, is the Blue Ridge Parkway a scenic byway due to its natural and scenic qualities, or is it a heritage byway due to its historic road design and introduction to the culture of Appalachia? Nonetheless, as local grassroots self-identification of the byways remains an important hallmark of the Program, such potential disparities need not be problematic so long as the visitor experience, corridor management plan and marketing activities for the byway are geared toward the same goals.
To further assist FHWA in evaluating the Program and maintaining grassroots evaluation, the heritage and scenic byway classifications may be further refined through the assignment of one of eighteen COREs designed to capture a level of detail not available through larger classifications.
Each byway is asked to submit a theme with its nomination application. Well-crafted themes are site-specific and speak to the intrinsic qualities and their relationship to land and people in a specific geographic location. They provide an excellent snapshot for the byway visitor desiring to learn what the byway has to offer. However, 126 individual themes make it difficult for FHWA to gauge general programmatic themes that may suggest similarities among byways for which technical assistance, program resources and marketing may be clustered for greater efficiency and better program structure. What is needed is a level of detail between the broad scenic and heritage byway classifications (land and people) and byway-specific themes.
A new approach to classifying byways is being suggested as a way to help identify byways with similar themes and stories. This approach is the "COREs"—for " Central Opportunities, Resources and Experiences"—and is intended to provide a middle ground between the six broad intrinsic qualities and 126 unique themes of each of America's Byways®. COREs seek a balance in better defining the diversity of the collection by offering categories that are more specific than the broad six intrinsic qualities (scenic, historic, recreational, natural, cultural and archaeological) yet are still sufficiently broad enough to allow considerable latitude in an individual byway's ability to showcase its unique stories and themes.
Each of the 18 COREs has been developed to capture broad themes and stories associated with the intrinsic qualities defined by land (scenic, natural and recreational) and people (historic, cultural and archeological). The individual CORE characteristics listed below have been developed to suggest themes and stories associated with each CORE—they are intended as inspirations, not limitations.
While COREs cannot completely capture the unique qualities of any one byway, their coordination with the land and people categories moves the National Scenic Byways Program a step closer to identifying the broad opportunities, resources and experiences that define each of the 126 designated routes in a way that identifies similarities and shared characteristics among the byways, while still respecting uniqueness.
Their use will enable the national program and individual byways alike to consider potential relationships among byways in each of the 18 COREs for resource protection, marketing, education and outreach, while at the same time still recognizing the unique qualities of each byway.
The 18 identified COREs are evenly divided into 9 "scenic" (land) and 9 "heritage" (people) categories. Each CORE presents a broad concept ("American Experience" or "Pristine Waters," for example), that is followed by a series of phrases that are intended to provoke thought and imagination regarding each byway. These are followed by the CORE definition and a list of characteristics to consider.
As noted, the six intrinsic qualities are subject to broad interpretation in both their identification and analysis. Another source for considering the "completeness" of the collection is through identified COREs and byway themes. Byway COREs represent national themes shared by all byways. Byway themes present more specific stories that specifically place the byway within time and space. Byway themes (and identified COREs) may be developed to the exclusion of other intrinsic qualities. A theme of "The Underground Railroad," for example, may well express the history and culture of the byway, but may elect to overlook the significant geologic formations of the region or Class A rapids of the river it parallels. This is not to suggest that such a theme is incorrect, but to serve as a reminder that most byways possess qualities in addition to those for which the byway was designated or is most recognized. In such a situation the question that should be asked is does the byway theme deny the presence of certain qualities to the America's Byways® collection as a whole, or does it accurately reflect the resource focus the visitor will be presented?