A new law championed by Sen. Susan Collins has big implications for Maine’s scenic byways and the communities that benefit from the added tourism these special roads attract.

Collins was the primary sponsor of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019 in the Senate, where it passed unanimously last month. Collins said she sponsored the bill because Maine’s scenic byways provide locals and tourists alike with spectacular views and memorable experiences, and that byways spur much-needed economic activity throughout our state.

The National Scenic Byways Program was created by Congress in 1991, and since then 150 roads around the country have been designated as National Scenic Byways, including four here in Maine.

The designation is very meaningful: National Scenic Byways are sought out by travelers from around the world because they present opportunities for an ideal American “road trip.” Drivers are assured of seeing stunning scenic beauty, iconic local character, or important historic, natural or cultural sites. Many scenic byways also offer opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Unfortunately, Congress let support for the program lapse in 2012, and it has sat dormant since, with no new National Scenic Byways named and no active promotion of the program by the Federal Highway Administration.

The new law, signed by the president Sept. 22, requires the U.S. secretary of transportation to restart the nomination process within 90 days and designate a new round of National Scenic Byways within one year.

Tourism is Maine’s top industry, and scenic byways are proven to attract travelers. The Maine Office of Tourism routinely highlights the state’s scenic byways program, one of the oldest in the country, to prospective visitors on its website and newsletter.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to make a point of visiting each of Maine’s four National Scenic Byways:

• The Acadia All-American Road begins on Route 3 in Trenton before moving on to Mount Desert Island, through Bar Harbor and into Acadia National Park. The views are so distinctive that it’s one of only 30 National Scenic Byways nationally to have attained the “All-American Road” designation.

• The Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway travels 78 miles along Route 201 from the town of Solon to the Canadian border, following the Kennebec River and old trading routes of the Abenaki. Towns like Bingham and Jackman offer relaxing places to stop, while brilliant foliage, abundant moose and other wildlife provide continuous enjoyment.

Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway winds around the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline before dropping to rolling valleys and hills.  The Height of Land on Route 17 is one of Maine’s most picturesque overlooks, with spectacular views of several lakes and densely forested mountainsides.

Schoodic National Scenic Byway will show you a quieter side of Acadia National Park and its neighboring communities.  The 29-mile route takes travelers through small fishing towns, around sheltered harbors and past dramatic coastlines.

In addition to these federally designated routes, there are 10 picturesque Maine state scenic byways to enjoy. These roads can be found on the state’s Explore Maine website.

The new law means that Maine’s four National Scenic Byways will once again benefit from the support and recognition provided by an active federal program, and stakeholders along our state-designated byways will be able to seek the national designation and the increased attention it carries.

As we enter the height of leaf-peeping season, let’s all treat ourselves to a drive on one or more of Maine’s scenic byways and support our local communities along the way!


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