ADDISON COUNTY — The Vermont Scenery Preservation Council (VSPC) has recommended that key stretches of roads in four Addison County communities be included in the Lake Champlain Byway network, a designation that could bring more tourists and new federal aid for physical improvements to those areas.
The VSPC has specifically recommended that Route 7 in Ferrisburgh; Route 30 in Middlebury; Route 30 in Cornwall; and Route 73 and Mt. Independence Road in Orwell all be given a “Byway” designation, which carries national recognition.
The National Scenic Byways Program was established in 1992 to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States — to encourage people to get off the interstates and enjoy the scenic roads less traveled.
Downtown Middlebury and Vergennes have already been a part of the Byways Program for several years. This designation has allowed the two communities to access federal funds for various projects. For example, Vergennes received a total of more than $300,000 since 2002 for work on its Otter Creek Basin/River Walk project.
All told, Vermont byways — of which there are currently six —have received a total of almost $7 million since 1992.
“This is a program that has grown a lot in Vermont,” said John LaBarge, Vermont Byways Program manager. “The Byways Program is an opportunity for a community to tell its story to visitors.”
Vermont’s current byways snake along the Connecticut River along the eastern length of the state; the Mad River Valley; the Stone Valley in Rutland County; the Molly Stark area of Bennington County; and along Lake Champlain. The Lake Champlain Byway runs along the northern length of lake, stretching from Route 2 through Grand Isle County in the north, joining Route 7 in Chittenden County and including downtown portions of Vergennes and Middlebury in Addison County.
The inclusion of the portions of Routes 30 or 7 in Middlebury, Ferrisburgh, Cornwall and Orwell — which now only needs to be affirmed by the Vermont Transportation Board — would bring the Lake Champlain Byway very close to connecting with the Stone Valley Byway in Poultney, LaBarge noted.
The VSPC listened to testimony in favor of the new Addison County Byways designations at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 14. The panel quickly recommended their inclusion into the byways system, believing they met the criteria of having “special scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological and/or natural qualities.”
Once they are approved by the Vermont Transportation Board, the new designed byways will be eligible for Congressionally approved transportation money reserved annually for the Byways Program. That money can be used for road safety improvements, pedestrian and bike paths, rest areas, shoulder improvements, recreation areas, interpretive information and protection of historic and cultural resources.
Areas designated as scenic byways are showcased through state and national brochures and Web sites, including www.vermont-byways.us/index.html, and www.byways.org. That information is in turn used as a promotional tool by chambers of commerce in attracting tourists.
Vermont set up its byways Web site around nine months ago, according to LaBarge. That site, during a recent month, recorded 1,434 hits, he said.
Still, the Byways Program has not been as easy a sell as one might think.
“Initially, I think communities had some concerns this program was going to affect their ability to control their own destiny along designated highways,” said Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee.
But as area communities have seen Vergennes and Middlebury mark successes with the program, they have been warming up to it, officials said.
“The selectboard recognizes the diligent work that has been accomplished toward identifying issues and projects that would benefit Middlebury and surrounding communities,” reads a July 13 letter from the Middlebury selectboard to the VSPC in support of the Route 30 designation.
LaBarge is hoping that Shoreham and Whiting will sign up in the near future to further solidify the Lake Champlain Byway.
“It’s not about regulation; it’s about recognition,” he said of the program.