Drive around Vermont enough, and you probably notice signs inviting you to get off the interstate highways and explore secondary roadways. There are nine scenic routes called byways, and they’re designed to make travelers linger at local attractions.
One runs along the Connecticut River and reaches into the Northeast Kingdom. But the state’s scenic northeast corner otherwise hasn’t developed a byway of its own. And local tourism officials fear that’s putting the NEK at a disadvantage.
Nowadays, people planning to travel often start by visiting the internet. On the Vermont Byways site, they can watch a video showcase of mountains, valleys, historic architecture, weathered faces, and, of course, cows. A professional narrator urges travelers that "getting off the interstate highway and on the secondary roads is the best way to meet Vermont and experience the unique character of each area."
Gloria Bruce, director of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, wants the NEK to climb aboard this promotional opportunity. "I think a lot of communities in the Northeast Kingdom perhaps don’t recognize the power of tourism,"she says. "So if you’re looking at a community like Island Pond or Lyndon, it would give them an opportunity to come together as a community and really do an assessment, and an evaluation."
If a community can identify enough roadside "assets" with cultural, archeological, scenic, or recreational value, and maps a route to make the attractions more obvious, it qualifies for some state and federal help with promotion. But all of the byway planning and much of the grantsmanship must be done locally.
Joel Cope, the Administrative Assistant to the Select Board in Brighton, which includes Island Pond, says he’s willing to do that work, with state support. "We don’t know, we just know how this will work out but we don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t give it a shot," Cope says.
He lists a slew of reasons to spend time-and money in and around this waterfront town at the intersection of Routes 114 and 105.
"The Lake-600 acre lake with a scenic island in the middle, mountain ranges around, the Clyde River, which is a famous river for fishing historically. We have historic buildings in the downtown, and a renovated train station."
VIDEO: Overview of Vermont’s Scenic Byways
But so far, Island Pond is the only town to say, "Yes," to the byways invitation Gloria Bruce sent from the NEK Tourism and Travel office. Historically, the Northeast Kingdom has been a little wary about what some see as a government mandate. Gloria Bruce says it’s not.
"We’re hoping that the communities will understand there is nothing restrictive about installing a byway," she says. "It doesn’t affect zoning. It doesn’t affect Act 250 or anything along those lines. It’s just an opportunity that they can choose to leverage."
Unlike other Vermont byways, which are linear, the proposed NEK route is circular. The state byways director, John La Barge, hopes NEK communities will quickly latch onto to an increasingly popular and effective tourism tool.
"It’s grown tremendously. … This year I printed out 60,000 brochures hoping to have two-years’ supply. I don’t think we’ll even have a year’s supply," La Barge says. There have been 3,500 hits a month on the Web site.
But, he warns, future state and federal funding is uncertain, so if the NEK wants to get on the byways map, it shouldn’t dawdle, and it should line up non-government partners to make the program sustainable.
Public Post: Craftsbury May Join Vermont’s Byway Program
Note: This story has been modified to reflect the following correction and clarification. There have been 3,500 hits a month to the state’s byways Web site, not the 12,000 that state officials initially reported. Also, a scenic byway does run along the Connecticut River and passes through the Northeast Kingdom. But that is a byway shared with New Hampshire. The Northeast Kingdom has not developed one on its own.