BETHEL – Organizers of Wednesday night’s informational meeting about designating Route 113 as a scenic byway, may have gotten more input than they were ready to field.
Co-organizer Toni Seeger of the Western Maine Cultural Alliance clearly wasn’t prepared to respond to people wanting to shift the designation attempt from Route 113 to Route 5.
“It’s a paradigm shift,” Steve Wight of Newry said after Jackie Cressy of Bethel urged Seeger to consider Route 5 through Lovell to Bethel rather than Route 113 through Fryeburg to Gilead.
“Maybe (Evans) Notch isn’t the best place for the road,” Wight added.
Seeger’s Alliance, Dina Jackson of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, and the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission received a grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to prepare a National Scenic Byways Program eligibility application.
The designation sought would be from Standish to Gilead on Route 113, then across Route 2 to Bethel and Route 26. The project involves 11 towns and the White Mountain National Forest, and New Hampshire.
“We have a fabulously scenic road, and, much of it is in its natural state,” Seeger said.
“The whole idea is to connect to Route 26. It could generate energy to create a byway all the way to Norway,” she added.
Cressy and others, however, objected to the stretch from Chatham, N.H., to Gilead.
They said it would increase traffic on the narrow, winding and sloped roadway.
“If the idea is to bring more business interests, people and more money into the economy, why not route it to Route 5? That way you hit several more towns, you’ll be completely in Maine, and, you don’t spoil Route 113,” Cressy said.
From Fryeburg to Chatham, people would love to have that road improved, Cressy said, which a byway designation would do, because it makes federal and state grant funds available for corridor improvement.
“As an economic engine, it would be better to run it through the small towns,” Wight added, saying Route 5 could use some bicycle lanes.
“I started this because Evans Notch is a no-brainer,” Seeger said.
“But you could ruin it,” Cressy replied.
Her husband, Al Cressy, concurred.
“You have this gorgeous road going through pristine areas, but then if you put a scenic byway in, it’s not conducive to that feeling. If you start widening that road, you’re going to destroy it,” he said.
Other questions addressed to Seeger and Jackson pertained to landowner rights and future zoning issues by developer and landowner Ron Savage and others, were jotted down so the duo could return with answers.