Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

4. Byway Categories

Collection Issue

The six intrinsic qualities do not adequately reflect the diversity of the National Scenic Byways Program.

While a useful tool for evaluation and review, the six intrinsic qualities (scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archaeological, recreational) do not adequately reflect the diversity of the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP).

Many byways possess all six intrinsic qualities. For many, one or two qualities outshine the others. For many others, the selection and identification of intrinsic qualities is based on existing infrastructure or traditionally held views, rather than intrinsic qualities that have not been historically valued or marketed by the community or region.

The categorization of a byway's intrinsic qualities is somewhat subjective. Consequently, a nominating group or organization may define a byway's intrinsic qualities according to their own background and experience. Some groups may identify a mountain as scenic or natural, while others may view the mountain for its exceptional ski run. For example, a ski-based organization deciding to promote a byway focused on skiing facilities and mountain scenery (recreational/scenic) may overlook, or never consider, the unique geological features or endangered wildlife habitat of the area. All three intrinsic qualities are present (scenic, natural, and recreational) in this example. Under NSBP guidance, local valuation is responsible for one (or two for All-American Road (AAR) status) intrinsic quality to be selected for recognition.

It is important to recognize that the six intrinsic qualities are tools to assist in evaluating byways. Their use alone to determine byway eligibility may be flawed and should be revisited.


The following observations suggest possible reasons why the six intrinsic qualities do not adequately reflect the diversity of the Program.

The six intrinsic qualities are confusing.

The six intrinsic qualities have been a source of confusion for local communities since the NSBP was established. While the six qualities are necessary to fully capture all potential eligible resources along proposed byway routes, more often than not they generate conflict regarding the designation of a site or feature. Since the application process does not allow for multiple intrinsic qualities (for designation as a National Scenic Byway applicants are asked to identify their primary intrinsic quality, while applicants for All-American Road designation are requested to identify two) more time is often spent by byway advocates considering the implications of one intrinsic quality over another (and its merits for a successful designation), than on visitor needs or resource protection.

Consider the stone foundation of a round barn. Is the feature historic due to its construction in the nineteenth century? Cultural, since it represented the Shaker's view of efficiency, or archaeological, since it remains only as a ruin? Similarly, consider a rushing river. Is it scenic due to its picturesque bends, overhanging branches and polished rocks, or natural, as a representation of rock formations and watershed systems? Or is it recreational as a favored whitewater rafting course? While the application of any of the intrinsic qualities in these scenarios would be correct and meet program guidance, local communities often wrestle with determining the "correct" intrinsic quality rather than considering the similarities that could lead to a stronger byway theme.

The six intrinsic qualities are not equally applied.

The two most commonly identified intrinsic qualities are scenic and historic. General observation suggests this has more to do with the commonly accepted definitions of these terms than a greater preponderance of scenic and historic resources in the United States. These two terms reinforce many earlier designation programs going back to the beginning of the twentieth century—scenic byways and historic routes. The familiarity of these terms may be a factor in their application to new byways.

Marketing goals, byway visitation, and local values influence intrinsic qualities.

The identification of a byway's intrinsic qualities may be based as much on the political and popular will of the byway community as on the presence of the intrinsic quality or qualities. An area famous for hiking, skiing, and whitewater rafting may have a well-developed advocacy organization interested in byway designation. While the area clearly qualifies as a recreational byway—and the nomination and corridor management plan would likely support such a determination—the byway may possess historic and cultural intrinsic qualities that neither fit with the current marketing of the area, nor have a local advocacy voice. Is the absence of these intrinsic qualities on the byway nomination a problem? Does their absence misrepresent the byway? This scenario is not presented to suggest any wrong-doing, but to reinforce the concept that the goals and values of byway groups and visitors influence the selection of the intrinsic quality or qualities for the route.


The following represent options to improve clarity in the use of the intrinsic qualities.

Establish the "land and people" concept

The six intrinsic qualities can be clustered into two groups: those based primarily on land resources, and those associated with the activities and cultures of people. The "land" cluster includes scenic, natural and recreational intrinsic qualities, while the "people" cluster represents historic, cultural and archaeological qualities.

The "land and people" concept could be translated into a grouping of byways into two types that would be useful for general public awareness and marketing: "scenic byways" and "heritage byways." These terms would offer a way to differentiate among the intrinsic qualities and define more accurate visitor expectations—specifically, a heritage route may not necessarily be "scenic." The term "scenic byway" would be retained for what it is most commonly associated in the mind of the general public—a pleasant and attractive drive—and "heritage byway" would be applied to routes focused on the human experience and tradition. Additionally, the "heritage byway" concept would be readily understood by international visitors, as the term "heritage" is more generally used internationally to capture what in the United States is generally referred to as history or culture.

Establish Central Opportunities, Resources and Experiences (COREs) concept

To further assist in classifying byways and provide for better collection-wide analysis of intrinsic qualities and byway marketing, a new approach to byway themes is being suggested as a way to help identify byways with similar characteristics and stories. This approach, the adoption of 18 "COREs"—for "Central Opportunities, Resources and Experiences"—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 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.

The 18 identified COREs are evenly divided into 9 "scenic" (land) and 9 "heritage" (people) categories. Each CORE presents a broad concept, such as "American Experience" or "Pristine Waters."

Scenic COREs

Heritage COREs

Additional Information

Due to the importance of the six intrinsic qualities in structuring and analyzing the National Scenic Byways Program, a detailed explanation of the "Land and People" and "COREs" concepts is presented as an attachment at the end of this document.

Related Issues

Primary Intrinsic Qualities for Designation

Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for archaeological intrinsic qualities
Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for cultural intrinsic qualities
Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for historic intrinsic qualities
Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for natural intrinsic qualities
Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for recreational intrinsic qualities
Small relief map of the United States showing America's Byways designated for scenic intrinsic qualities

Primary Intrinsic Qualities for Designation, Grouped

Relief map of the United States depicting byways according to the cluster of intrinsic qualities for which they were designated: land, people or both.

Updated: 9/3/2013
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000