Scenic byway gives a lot of bang for our bucks

At a recent meeting of the Town of Highland Town Board, a supposedly routine budget item came up for consideration: a $500 annual contribution to the committee for the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway (UDSB). The item was approved, but one councilman, Donald Rupp, elected to oppose it. When we asked why, he responded that he considers the byway to be just one more manifestation of the “clutch-hold” of the National Park Service (NPS) on the river valley.

In fact, the UDSB, a state entity, is not affiliated with the NPS. It is a 501(c)(3) organization that receives all operational funding from voluntary contributions. Since the organization does not have staffing or an office, a fellow non-profit, the Upper Delaware Council, Inc., (UDC) provides some administrative support. The UDC and its partners at the NPS are among the non-voting members of the UDSB committee, but voting powers rest solely with the municipal members—like the Town of Highland.

Nor is there anything compulsory about the byway. Towns can join or not join at will—at present both Fremont and Hancock have declined—and once they have joined, can also drop out when they wish. And even after they have joined, they are not forced to act in accordance with the UDSB’s stated goals. For example, the corridor management plan (CMP) for the byway recommends limiting or eliminating the use of off-premises signage (i.e. billboards). But it is up to the towns themselves to make the rules and regulations on signage, and if a town were to decide to allow 400-square-foot billboards there would be nothing to stop it.

But if the UDSB isn’t coercive, what does it do? What, after all, are the taxpayers of Highland getting for their $500?

A scenic byway is, in effect, a coordinated marketing and development plan, which allows a group of municipalities to unite both human and economic resources in order to encourage tourism and the spending of tourism dollars along the designated roadway. By working together, they can construct and promote a recognizable and saleable brand for the area, by which traffic to any one part of the area will encourage traffic to all parts of it.

And here’s the kicker: the scenic byway designation makes all the participating municipalities eligible for funds that they would not otherwise be able to obtain.

One example of projects that the UDSB has enabled is a visitors center at the Cochecton Train Station site. With a little help from Rep. Maurice Hinchey, 80 percent federal funding has been obtained for building the center (though it may take a while for the money to wend its way through the pipeline). The center will provide restrooms and give Route 97 travelers a place to stop, browse, and find out about all the other places along the route they can visit—and ring the cash registers.

In Callicoon, plans are underway to do some selective clearing at a site above the viaduct to open up the view for motorists. The land where the clearing is to be done is private—but the owners are giving permission, and won’t have to pay a dime of their own money. The CMP, although stressing the general need to preserve native vegetation, designates a selected series of such sites where limited clearing would open up dramatic vistas for motorists. This would cost residents nothing, while improving the scenic qualities of the road, generating more traffic—and ringing more cash registers.

The idea of the byway isn’t just to bring more traffic onto the highway; it’s to bring it off the highway and into the hamlets and attractions alongside it. Special byway-approved signage that directs traffic off the main road into the downtowns, and around downtowns to local businesses and attractions, is another way to increase tourist revenue. Narrowsburg will get all these signs for free, having been designated the demonstration area for New York State’s byway signage program.

If the towns along the Upper Delaware can make Route 97 an even more beautiful road to drive, with interesting places to stop, learn about the area, and view its natural splendors, alongside clear and consistent signage with information about the fun things to do here, more people will come and spend their money. It’s as simple as that. The Upper Delaware Scenic Byway is a way to do that, to advertise the fact that we are doing it, and to get some funding to help us do it.

Five hundred bucks a town sounds pretty cheap to us.

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Dr. Punnybone

No Room for Error

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