On August 8, regular contributor to the New York History Blog Peter Feinman wrote a post entitled “Old Roads: Byways of the History Community” in which he made a proposal to create “Paths” following the historic and scenic roadways of New York.
This article made two things abundantly clear: there is a need for pathways that create a driving experience and many people in the history community are unaware that these programs already exist!
According to the NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) website, “The New York State Scenic Byways program was created in 1992 by the State Legislature. The program encourages both economic development and resource conservation, recognizing that each of these aspects of a byway must be fostered to ensure the success of the other.” NYSDOT lists 29 Scenic Byways: 26 with State Designations and 3 with Federal Designations as National Scenic Byways, with Lakes to Locks Passage holding the premier designation as an “All-American Road.” There are also scenic roads that were designated by the NYS Department of Conservation prior to the Byways Program, North Country Touring Routes and Parkways that “exhibit statewide scenic, recreational, cultural, natural historic or archeological significance.”
While there is no shortage of designated roadways, this leaves the question of what these “scenic byways” do. The challenge is that each organization has its own management plan and structure. While Lakes to Locks Passage, Mohawk Towpath and Seaway Trail are all 501(c)3s, the Seaway Trail is also a business promotion agency and the Mohawk Towpath has a Friends group. Others are made up of a volunteer board of local community leaders and some have no management agency at all.
According to the NYSDOT byways program brochure, “Byway guidelines are flexible … organized around at least one theme:” natural, historical, recreational, cultural or scenic. “The theme is based on related resources that are located along the byway corridor. These resources can be things like landmarks, buildings, mountains, vistas, businesses, parks, historical sites . . . nearly anything of interest or value that is visible from, adjacent to, accessed by, or associated with the road.” A Corridor Management Plan (CMP) describing the byways role and function is required for designation.
Peter’s challenge has been received and in many instances, the challenge has been overcome.
Let’s create “On the Road Again” paths for the leading roads in New York State.
An “On the Road Again” path could support the existing Scenic Byway Program, but a completely new program would create redundancies and add loopholes for the existing initiatives, which wastes time and tax-payer money.
Let’s have the municipal historian and historical society of each community on the historic roads of New York State create the local experience program.
Lakes to Locks Passage has developed what we call a Heritage Center Strategy, which defines a hierarchy of visitor information aimed at defining and delivering stories through real people, in real places, for a unique and authentic experience that will attract national and international visitors. The Department of State, the Archives Partnership Trust and the Institute of Museum and Library Services have endorsed the Heritage Center Strategy. Click here to see the Lakes to Locks Passage Heritage Center Strategy.
Let’s then combine these community experiences into a larger experience called a path.
Scenic Byways already have nationwide branding, and some recognition. I.E. Route 66. Why rebrand them as something new?
How hard could it be to go to a tour operator and say: “Follow this road and stop in every community along the way to experience its story?
In order to attract a tour operator there needs to be a marketable product that operators would considered a sound investment, museums and historic sites need to present professional exhibits and narratives that will entice visitors and they need to be organized to create a seamless experience as the visitor travels from one destination to the next. It requires training a tour guide, who is knowledgeable to answer visitor questions.
Over the last 10+ years, Lakes to Locks Passage has conducted extensive community outreach. Provided technical assistance and grants to bring world-class exhibits to local museums, as well as sustainable organization trainings aimed at bringing professional standards to volunteer run museums and training individuals to become ambassadors for their community and the region. Built infrastructure that supports the byway experience, such as roadway signage, pull-offs, community and interpretive kiosks, Land Water Revitalization Plans and multimodal trails. Developed interpretive products, such as guidebooks, local and regional brochures, a website co-branded with National Geographic, travel itineraries and soon a mobile application. Lakes to Locks Passage also has a multi-regional marketing initiative, which in 2012 included advertorial in the Montreal Gazette, and Audubon, NY Times Travel and National Geographic Traveler magazines. In 2013, Lakes to Locks Passage created banner ads that appear on the NationalGeographic.com and MontrealGazette.com website and a 26 week WAMC promotional campaign.
In short, creating a Byway experience is far from easy, but the groundwork has been laid and plans have been established. Why recreate the wheel? What readers can do is learn about existing Scenic Byways in your region, and find out how you can participate in building the byway experience. I encourage anyone in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Essex or Clinton Counties to contact me at [email protected] , and I would be happy to answer any questions.
As always, I thank Peter Feinman for his regular updates on current issues in the history field, and bringing the light the existing identity-problem within the Byway community.