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Ozark Gateway pursuing Scenic Byway Designation | News

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Ozark Gateway pursuing Scenic Byway Designation

The non-profit group promotes tourism in an eight county region that includes Independence, Stone, Sharp, Izard, Fulton, Jackson, Randolph, and Lawrence counties.

It launched its Heritage Tourism initiative at the beginning of the year to call attention to the natural beauty and historic assets that characterize the region; poster-size maps indicating the routes and identifying the major historic attractions along the routes are posted in every state tourist center. A smaller version of the map and information about the initiative is contained in the Ozark Gateway Tourist Guide.

The vision of the Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byways Program is "To create a distinctive collection of American roads, their stories and treasured places." The Federal Highway Administration oversees, but does not regulate, the States' Scenic Byways Programs.

Their mission is to provide resources to the byway community in creating a unique travel experience and enhanced local quality of life through efforts to preserve, protect, interpret, and promote the intrinsic qualities of designated byways.

This program is founded upon the strength of the leaders for individual Byways. It is a voluntary, grassroots program. It recognizes and supports outstanding roads. It provides resources to help manage the intrinsic qualities within the broader Byway corridor to be treasured and shared. Perhaps one of the underlying principles for the program has been articulated best by the Byway leader who said, "The program is about recognition, not regulation."

The Arkansas Scenic Byway Program, administered by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, "recognizes outstanding routes across the state. These routes are meant to serve as destinations for travelers by providing a wide range of recreational, cultural, historic, natural, archaeological, or scenic resources. Designation is the result of a dedicated partnership involving the residents, business people and elected officials along the route."

In order for highways to be included in a Scenic Byway, they must first be designated as "Scenic Highways" by the State Legislature. Most of the routes in the Heritage Tourism initiative are already designated Scenic Highways. In addition, the counties and incorporated cities along the proposed byway must pass a non-binding, non-regulatory, resolution in support of the designation in order to be included as part of the byway.

Participation is optional; communities which decide not to participate may be exempted from the designation, but will be welcome to join the byway at a later date.

In Arkansas, the designation of a Scenic Highway as a Scenic Byway means that no new off-premise advertising (billboard) may be erected and no new unscreened salvage yards may be established. Salvage yard owners already are required to comply with screening requirements on Primary or Scenic highways.

Byway designation will not add to the salvage yard regulation on existing Scenic Highways. The State of Arkansas does not have any ordinances requiring scenic easements, regulating view shed or use of property (except billboards and salvage yards, as identified above), or any other use of private property adjacent to a Scenic Byway.

Regulations for permitting of existing signs may be found online at the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

On-premise signs, located on the property that is maintained as part of the business or activity that is displaying the sign, are not regulated by the State. If there are city or county ordinances, such as height restrictions, those will be enforced by the jurisdiction that established the ordinance.

Examples of allowed signs include signs marking a turn at a private drive to a business that is not visible from the highway, signs on farm or ranch property indicating the name or products of the farm or type of livestock raised, and signs advertising the sale of the property on which they are located. Church signs and city welcome signs are allowed, but do have a size limit. Welcome signs for cities can include identification of civic organizations with chapters or clubs in the city.

Ozark Gateway executive director Cathy Drew and board president Bob Pest are visiting communities in the region to explain the initiative and the potential positive impact on the tourism economy. According to Pest, "Our byways programs will recognize and showcase the proposed byway. It will also reap rewards by protecting the unique character of our communities while providing economic opportunities in tourism and recreation."

Drew and Pest are also available to meet with community groups to discuss the initiative. Interested individuals can download the Ozark Gateway Tourist Guide online for information about the Heritage Tourism initiative and the scenic drives map.

For additional information, call 870-793-9316. For information about the Arkansas Scenic Byway Program email scenicbyways@arkansashighways.com.

(Source: Batesville Chamber of Commerce)