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Scenic Byways on the Road to Recognition

A SCENIC byway, by definition, provides scenic vistas from the road to travelers willing to forego high-speed highways for leisurely motoring through pleasant, natural scenery. These byways vary widely, but all have significant aesthetic, cultural, historical, or environmental features. Some byways are designated by states, and some are under federal land-management authorities, such as the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service. The latter category includes the San Juan Skyway near Durango, Colo., the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs from Nashville to Natchez, Miss., and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

A National Scenic Byways Program is expected to be created by congressional action this fiscal year or in 1992. The federal highway reauthorization bill, which contains a Scenic Byways component, was introduced to the Senate in April and a separate bill will be introduced in the House shortly.

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Nearly two-thirds of the states have established scenic byways programs or have designated some roads as scenic, but procedures and criteria for scenic designation vary widely.

Shelley S. Mastran, program specialist for the National Trust, does foresee a possible problem with these designations: ``One goal is to draw attention to the special charms of a byway, but the more visitors to the road, the greater the threat to its scenic and historic resources and the problem of protection becomes greater.''

The National Trust, says Ms. Mastran, favors the establishment of a strong program in which states participate voluntarily under national policy guidance with regard to designation and protection standards. The Trust also recommends the creation of a National Scenic and Historic Byway Center to provide educational and training assistance to state and local officials who administer scenic byways programs.

Whatever emerges as the national scenic byways program, responsibility for the historic and scenic integrity of the roads will be largely a local matter, Mastran says.

Legislative action for the reauthorized highway bill would allow funding to states for creating Scenic Byways programs, determining criteria for their selection, and setting standards for their management.

Organizations such as the National Trust, Scenic America, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Bicycle Federation of America are already lobbying for strong protective measures, particularly against use of the byways by buses, vans, and recreational vehicles.

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