Scenic Byways a hot issue?
With Carroll County facing the possibility of having not one, but two, Arkansas Scenic Byways, there are a lot of questions about what such designations would mean.
In short, the answer is not much and a lot, depending on which side of the issue your are on.
Public meetings were held in Berryville and Clarksville this week about designating Highway 21 as a Scenic Byway. The same designation for Highway 23, as a part of a proposed West Northwest Scenic Byway, will be held Monday at the Huntsville Community Center at 6:30 p.m., and Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at The Meeting Place in Booneville.
The upside to Scenic Byways is tourist traffic, promoted by the state on maps and with special signage.
The downside is elimination of new signage, and limitations of existing signage, and a prohibition of salvage yards, defined as five or more inoperable vehicles (including farm machinery), within 1,000 feet of the highway.
Highway 23's proposed designation might play well with Eureka Springs and Holiday Island residents, but the Highway 21 proposal certainly did not fly among Berryville area residents during a public hearing Monday night in Berryville.
The 283-mile-long West Northwest Scenic Byway includes all of Highway 23 from Missouri to Highway 71 between Mansfield and Waldron, Highway 71 from Mena to Interstate 540, Highway 96 from Highway 71 to Hartford, and Highway 10 from Ola to the Oklahoma state line, except that portion of Highway 10 within Greenwood.
The Highway 21 proposal runs from U.S. Highway 64 at Clarksville, north through Newton and Madison counties to the Missouri state line in Carroll County. This corridor is 99 miles long. Part of the route is already designated as a National Forest Service Scenic Byway.
According to Connie Gray of Harrision, who is in the outdoor advertising business, noted that at Tuesday's meeting in Clarksville people were generall supportive of the Scenic Byway concept until questions about signage restrictions, especially seasonal signs for locally grown produce, were raised.
The Arkansas Highway Commission requires that a route for scenic byway designation contain abundant scenic, cultural and/or historic qualities of interest to travelers.
Outdoor advertising along Arkansas Scenic Byways is controlled. Only exisiting billboards are permitted, as non-conforming signs, and cannot be replaced if destroyed. On-site signs may be erected with certain restrictions.
New signs, located away from the businesses they advertise, will not be permitted.
Signs announcing the sale or lease of property on which they are erected are allowed, and church and civic club signs are allowed if no more than eight square feet.
North Highway 21 is currently a Scenic Highway, with no required controls. Highway 21 North of Berryville falls under the Highway Beautification Act, which includes some limits on signage locations and sizes.
Public comments and questions during the public hearing process will be supplied to the Arkansas Highway Commission for final consideration.
Opposition was so strong at Monday's meeting regarding Highway 21, that Justice of the Peace Anita Langhover agreed to sponsor an ordinance or resolution for the quorum court's consideration to exclude the Carroll County portion of the highway from the designation.
That exclusionary process did not exist when the state's premier Scenic Highway, Highway 7, a portion of which is a Scenic Byway, was designated. During the public hearing stage of its creation, the Harrison community was largely opposed to the idea, and, since the mechanism to be excluded was created, the community had not formally been notified of the change, AHD officials indicated.
With the creation of National Scenic Byways in 1991, the U.S. Congress encouraged states to develop Scenic Byways. Arkansas has two National Scenic Byways, the Great River Road in eastern Arkansas, and Crowley's Ridge in northeast Arkansas.
Arkansas Scenic Byways include Highway 7, created in 1993, Highway 309 at Mt. Magazine, I-530 at Pine Bluff, Highway 88 near Mena, and Highway 71 and I-540 from Alma to Fayetteville.
Scenic Byways are not to be confused with Scenic Highways, which are designated by the state legislature and have blue signage.
The U.S. Forest Service also designates scenic routes with different signage. There are nine of these in National Forests in the state, and parts of both Highways 21 and 23 are included.
Also coming into play is the National Beautification Act, which can be applied to any route, and promotes flora and vegetation along routes, among other things.
AHD sees the Scenic Byways program as recognition which promotes tourism, increasing spending for gas, meals, lodging and other products and services. But, aside from signage and map designation, promotion and marketing of businesses along such routes has to be done by individuals or associations.
Self promotion is key to the byway program, according to Steve Weston of the planning and research division of AHD.
That has met with mixed results along Highway 7. The restrictions demanding proximity of signs to the business often means that the signs are not visible by motorists until on top of the business, due to the many curves.
At Monday's meeting, some persons along the Highway 21 route were concerned with safety with increased traffic, and tourist drivers unfamiliar with the highway
Other concerns included the restrictions on salvage yards, which opponents fear could be expanded to include other things, such as round bales of hay in a field adjacent to the highway.
Designation of a Scenic Byway does not preclude the highway department from widening or expanding roads, though the basic idea seems to be maintaining the natural and historic appearance of the landscape.
Generally, hard data on the financial impact of Scenic Byway designation is hard to determine, as business are reluctant to share financial information.
The AHD is currently developing a Tourism Oriented Directional Signage (TODS) program which could be used on Scenic Byways. That, however, is ironic, in view of Lady Bird Johnson's concerns, when the National Highway Beautification Act was passed in the 1960s, that states should not get in the signage business.