Designating a distinctive road for preservation

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The Acadia Byway.

The Old Canada Road Scenic Byway.

The Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway.

The Schoodic Scenic Byway.

These four stretches of Maine roads are designated by the nation’s Scenic Byways Program as among the most scenic in the country.

In Bethel, Toni Seger of the Western Maine Cultural Alliance is intent on earning a scenic byway designation for the 60 miles along Route 113 from Standish to Gilead. We believe that stretch qualifies for the designation and is at least as scenic as Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway or Maryland’s Historic National Road, both recognized byways. It may be the last few miles of Route 113, the part that curls through the White Mountain National Forest and cross Evans Notch, that are the most scenic.

There was some resistance at a recent informational meeting to pursue this designation, with suggestions made that the byway distinction would be better suited to Route 5. The feeling was that more towns in greater need of economic development might benefit from pursuing a designation for Route 5.

While it is certainly true that byway designations can boost tourism dollars, that’s not the primary purpose. Byways are so named because of their demonstrated archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. Do the people who live in communities that support byways benefit? Absolutely, but the real benefit is the preservation and protection of unique routes of travel.

The drive along Route 5 is certainly scenic, as any journey through western Maine is, but the trip along this stretch of Route 113 is rich with all the very elements that match previously recognized byway designations.

If this stretch is wrapped into the byways program, it will receive welcome funding through the Federal Highway Administration’s Discretionary Grants Program. But, for this route to be considered, selectmen in the towns through which the road passes must support the designation. We urge selectmen in those 11 towns to sign on. If they have questions, Seger is willing and eager to answer them, but they can also log on to www.bywaysonline.gov and do their own research. The site lists all of the nation’s 126 designated byways, including nine in Maine, where they are and what qualifies them for this distinction.

Better yet, perhaps selectmen ought to pile into cars and take the 60-mile drive. That’s all they’ll need to convince them that this route is as scenic as they come and deserves this national recognition.

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