Local organizational capacity is critical to local byway success for most, though not all, byways. How should the Program encourage local organizational strength? Will the quality of the entire collection and of individual byways improve through additional organizational support from the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP)? Are there other ways that the national Program can encourage organizational vitality at the local level?
Over the course of the history of the Program, it has become clear that the success of many byways is a function of the amount of activity and level of management within the local byway groups. Therefore the quality of individual byway experiences and the quality of the collection as a whole is related to the success of local byway groups.
Are there ways, therefore, that the National Scenic Byways Program can support and enhance local byway group success?
The America's Byways Resource Center is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Federal Highway Administration. One of the primary functions of the America's Byways Resource Center is to provide technical assistance to local byways. Staff members are assigned to provide support to specific States, Indian tribes and their byways. Regular teleconferences, a bi-monthly newsletter (Vistas), and workshops and trainings support the byway groups.
Within the services provided by the America's Byways Resource Center, organizational sustainability and success have been two of the primary focuses. Over the course of the last several years, the America's Byways Resource Center has provided workshops that specifically concentrate on organizational development. Finally, and to a large degree, the infield services offered by the America's Byways Resource Center staff often focus on helping the local byway group function in a more efficient and productive way.
Given the resources and technical services available to the byway community, it is fair to say that any byway group seeking help and desiring to improve a component of their byway has access to a high level of support. There are no obvious gaps in the types of organizational support services offered.
This leads to a conclusion that perhaps the most productive additional steps that the National Scenic Byways Program might take will be to require higher levels of accountability regarding the performance of byway groups.
In other words, while the National Scenic Byways Program has offered a wide array of opportunities and resources to encourage organizational success, the Program has not been as aggressive in encouraging local groups to improve their performance.
It should be noted that the types of activities required to manage a scenic-oriented byway running through a national forest (land) are very different from the types of activities needed to manage a byway running through private lands and based on a heritage (people). A group managing the first may only need to update maps and ensure that interpretive facilities are well-managed for their byway to offer a quality experience. For the second, a group may need to develop a comprehensive interpretive program, complete with new facilities and partnerships to manage them. They may need to purchase critical historic structures to help tell and preserve the story of their byway. Therefore the level of activity required from the second group to provide a high-quality visitor experience may be much more extensive than the level of activity required from the first group.
This observation has two implications. The first is that the National Scenic Byways Program should not hold all groups to the same level of expectation regarding activities. Local groups should depend on their circumstances to define the activities and projects that make sense for their byway. But those activities should be linked to a clear definition of what it is that must be done to provide a quality traveler experience along their byway. The second is that groups who are fortunate enough to be working with public lands and to be offering the traveler a set of resources likely to remain largely unchanged and which offer, with little effort, a high-quality driving experience, should be acknowledged as potentially needing less support than those byways that must build a quality experience from the ground up.
The Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with the State and Indian tribe scenic byway coordinators, might require that all byway groups prepare a concise annual statement of the activities they pursued and their accomplishments, and present a clear plan of action for the year to come. These reports could easily be prepared within two pages. A template to ensure consistent format and provision of information could be developed. This type of annual performance report would require that groups sit down annually and consider reasonable objectives for the coming year. A written record would be established to track the degree to which the local byway group was able to define solid objectives and then follow through with successful performance. Over time, the documentation of the performance of various byway organizations and how they approached the work along their byways might provide ready examples to be shared with others.
State and Indian tribe scenic byway coordinators could evaluate the performance of each of their local byway groups using the annual performance reports. Byway coordinators could issue grades of exceeded expectations, met expectations, and failed to meet expectations. Again, over the course of years, these types of basic evaluations would provide a measure of the effectiveness of local byway groups.
When local groups submit applications for consideration for National Scenic Byways Program funding one of the criteria for consideration would be the demonstrated effectiveness of the local group. This could be measured in a more quantitative way than ever before if a State or Indian tribe coordinator had annual performance reports readily available to gage the success of the byway organization in identifying and implementing projects. Presumably this would also help the State and Indian tribe byway coordinators prioritize projects prior to submission to the Federal Highway Administration.
Following the completion of the funded project, the local byway group should be required to submit a performance report to the Federal Highway Administration. Again, these reports need not be lengthy and burdensome. A standardized format could be developed and used to promote consistency in the information being provided and to facilitate reviews prior to the consideration of subsequent grant funding. The end result, however, should be that the byway group be held accountable to document the ways in which the National Scenic Byways Program grant funds were used. Some set of criteria should be established as to whether the overall project resulted in low, medium or high benefits to the byway. Ideally, those criteria should help to measure whether the byway is moving toward providing a higher-quality experience.
Currently, the preparation of corridor management plans results in the generation of a long list of desired actions for local byway groups. Typically, no one is monitoring whether the byway group is moving toward its goals from year to year. There is no provision within the corridor management plan standards to define what will be required as a quality byway experience. The Program should offer a clear definition of quality and a clear set of measurement tools to facilitate the development of both a baseline and periodic measurement of byway activities over time. (policy issue)