This has been a summer of reflection, learning, and hope.
Do you remember our early advocacy committee meetings with Barbara Henderson from the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor? It seems only yesterday that I walked into Pat Haffner’s office with a sheaf of papers including a draft of corporate papers to be filed with the New York Secretary of State. Isabel Prescott reminisces about a fellow MVHCC board member, a Stockade resident, in her shop excitedly talking about tourists visiting Riverview Orchards as one of their stops on a proposed historic travel route. Find a copy of the Mohawk Towpath Byway Corridor Management Plan. It serves us as our Bible still guiding us through implementation of our Byway efforts. Inside this document front cover is a list of the early advocacy committee. Some of those people moved away, have passed on, but a surprising number are current members of the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway.
The Midwest Byway Conference was held late August on the National Road in Richmond, Indiana very close to the Ohio state line. I had the privilege and honor of sharing what we learned at the Story Telling Summit with those participating. The National Scenic Byway Foundation was a sponsor and provided a similar role as it did here in Schenectady. There were 82 conference participants from 15 states at the conference. Indiana, Ohio and Illinois’ byways and related support organizations were highly visible, but Seaway Trail was there as well as the Mohawk Towpath Byway. It was encouraging if not downright thrilling to see so many other representatives of viable Byways.
I attended the Conference on our shoestring budget including accumulated personal “sky miles” and blind luck good travel shopping. I got as much out of that two day trip than we got from the BIG National Byways Conference (Baltimore, Denver or Minneapolis) when we spent several times the amount. Sure, our presentations at National Byway Conferences were much more polished and professional, but the audience was much larger and more difficult to engage.
Yes, there is a Ohio-Erie Canal. The National Road (AKA The Cumberland Turnpike) has some interesting historic features. There’s a certain pleasure driving 40 minutes through “America’s Breadbasket:” there were miles of huge fields of corn, sorghum, and soy bean punctuated with hedge rows, a local road or a drainage way. Their history goes back to 1811. I came to realize that we live in a very special place… the only water level route through the Appalachian Mountains. Our history goes back 12,000 years to the last glaciation!
Another highlight of our summer was the Byway Leadership Training where a number of our N Y State Byways, fledgling byways to organizations older than ours, got to meet our new NYSDOT Byway Coordinator in person. This is proving so valuable revealing what the state feels is important, plus the state personnel gaining a growing appreciation of what is important to our grass roots Byway organizations. These same discussions aren’t as fruitful when reduced to snail mail; handled via e-mail; or within the confines of a phone or conference call.
It is reassuring to be a part of the National Scenic Byway Foundation and to share our collective expertise and realize the benefits of our membership in the broader network of America’s Byways®. We, the volunteers of the Mohawk Towpath Byway, are respected for our collective expertise and perspective and above all our enthusiasm for the future. Scenic America and the NSBF are asking us to support a Congressional proposal (specifically H R 5158) to require the Federal Highway Administration to solicit nominations for additional national scenic byways. I think this is a great idea to add to the network of 150 Byways across the country. It will add to the network that tells the stories, appreciates the economic possibilities of experiential tourism, and respects the diversity of our historic resources. It is a simple request that should attract bipartisan support.
As economic conditions improve future congressional sessions might consider funding for byways as well as programs to foster, maintain and assure byway quality.