FROM HIGHWAYS TO BYWAYS
NEK - After extensive work for more than a year, the Northeast Kingdom is now one step closer to having an official "byway." Last Monday, the Vermont Byway Council approved the NEK Byway after meeting with tourism and development officials at Burke Mountain. The official NEK Byway corridor would stretch from St. Johnsbury through Lyndonville, East Burke and West Burke, Westmore, West Charleston and Derby. Once in Derby, the Byway will split and go north along Route 5 to Derby Line and continue on 105 West to Newport.Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism’s (NEKTTA) executive director Gloria Bruce noted that the Haskell Opera House as a significant byway destination with its history and culture and would have to be included along the NEK Byway. She also noted that Lake Memphremagog and Newport City, with their histories, are examples of what the area has to offer of interest to visitors as well as local residents. Bruce used St. Johnsbury as another example of a byway destination with its fascinating history, dating back to the Civil War.NEKTTA is working closely with the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) on the Byway designation. Together, the organizations worked on establishing the route, taking into consideration which communities showed the most interest and which had special and unique qualities. These qualities include archeology, culture and history, and natural, recreational and scenic opportunities. Every town along the route wrote a letter supporting the project, Bruce said.The next step for the official Byway designation is approval from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS), which is slated to review the proposal at a public meeting Jan. 7 at Burke Mountain. VTRANS will then make a final decision. The Vermont Byways Program is a locally grown effort established with the support of the National Scenic Byways Program and funded by the Federal Highway Administration.VTRANS is involved because the route is along state highways and VTRANS analyzes each route with safety in mind. VTRANS is a key partner in the process, Bruce said.The official Byway designation would open up many possibilities for communities to promote what they have to offer, Bruce added. Once approved, work will begin to create and promote the Byway. An educational piece is included. The goal of Byways is to get travelers off the Interstate system and into towns via alternate routes, which allow travelers to get to know the towns and all they have to offer.Communities and individuals can begin to identify what they need to better accommodate visitors such as an information kiosk or picnic benches, signage, or even the need for public restrooms, Bruce explained.If the NEK Byway is approved, it will be the tenth in the state, and the second that goes through the NEK. The other is the Connecticut River Byway.Anyone with questions about what is available with the Byway designation should contact NEKTTA for more information.