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Bear Creek Bridge Red Mt Pass

Photo credit Lisa Ann Schwantes, CDOT/Bear Creek Bridge, Red Mt. Pass, San Juan Skyway, Ouray CO

DENVER – The Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Program, which has helped guide the development of the state’s roadways that have exceptional scenic, ecological, cultural, and historic attributes, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. 

“Over the span of three decades, some byway names have become legendary, such as the San Juan Skyway, Alpine Loop, and the Highway of Legends,” said CDOT’s Colorado Byways Program Manager Lenore Bates.  “The initial byways roster envisioned between 15 and 20 routes but the Scenic Byways Commission settled in with 26 of them.  They are truly the best of Colorado.”

Eleven of those are national routes, known as America’s Byways, two are All-American Roads, ten are National Forest Scenic Byways and two are Bureau of Land Management Back Country Byways.  Their mutual characteristics are fascinating history, unique natural resources, and scenery that includes mountains, high plains, plateaus and canyons.

Throughout 2019, as part of its 30th Anniversary, the program will be promoted through sponsorship booths at the Saving Places Conference and Partners in the Outdoors Conference, and a proposed affinity tour for the National Preservation Conference. In addition, a photo collection of all the byways are exhibited at the State Capitol through April, in partnership with Colorado Creative Industries. History Colorado also will exhibit the photos at its History Colorado Center in Denver around Memorial Day. Additionally, a Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop will promote new itineraries that mix soaking and driving for pleasure.

A 2016 economic analysis of the state’s economy pegged the cumulative impact of visitor spending while traveling the byways from 2009 to 2014 at nearly $4.8 billion, or nearly $800 million annually.  These economic impacts signify that byways are an exceedingly popular tourist draw and contributor to regional and state economic development.

 “However, the program isn’t just about promoting tourism for the benefit of the local economy,” said Bates.  “Locals and visitors alike are interested in the history of these areas, the natural resources found there, and how to protect them for future generations. The byways program is deeply involved in all of those areas.”

The program has been promoted over the years through a highly-successful online and printed brochure (Colorado: The Official Guide to Scenic & Historic Byways), www.ColoradoByways.org, news articles and partnerships. After 30 years, a new mobile friendly website is on the horizon with a recent History Colorado State Historical Fund grant and matching funds through the Colorado Tourism Office.  

Former CDOT staff historian and State Byways Coordinator Sally Pearce is recognized for developing and guiding the program for more than 20 years. Bates has lead the program for most of the last decade through wayfinding, redevelopment and collaboration with local byway groups, CDOT staff, and with traditional and non-traditional partnerships.

The Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways Commission also has played a significant role.  Initially, it helped establish the program and prioritize national grant funding and nominations.  As directed by the most recent Executive Order, the Commission is providing program planning and support to sustain the byways for future generations.

For more information about the Scenic and Historic Byways, please visit www.ColoradoByways.org.

COLORADO BYWAYS MILESTONES

1989 – Program created by Executive Order

1989 – First five byways designated

1990 – Three more byways designated

1991 – Five more byways designated

1996 – Three byways receive national designations

1998–2005 – One to two byways are designated each year

2009 – Colorado hosts National Scenic Byways Conference

2014 – Tracks Across Borders designated 26th byway (and final one to date)

2014 – Colorado Byways 25th Anniversary

2018 – Colorado hosts International Preserving the Historic Road Conference

2019 – 30th Anniversary

Colorado Byways connect the state by providing access to:

  • 23 Colorado State Parks
  • 13 National Recreation Trails
  • Four National Parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde (a World Heritage Site), Rocky Mountain
  • Eight National Forests
  • Eight National Monuments
  • Two National Historic Sites
  • Two National Heritage Areas
  • Two National Wildlife Refuges
  • Two National Recreation Areas
  • Two National Grasslands
  • One Tribal Park (Ute Mountain)

Colorado Byways also provide access to 26 other environmental points of interest (including National Natural Landmarks), a minimum of seven federally recognized Wilderness Areas, many Colorado Welcome Centers, Colorado Main Streets and Colorado Creative Districts.  Byway sponsors list approximately 50 local and state museums and historical sites, including eight scenic and historic trains.  Many byways feature CDOT highways and local and regional roadways that are in and of themselves historic and worthy of national recognition for their pioneering engineering.