By Gerry Schnepf
With Willie Nelson’s music on your mind, hop on your bike or motorcycle or jump in your car, SUV, RV or tour bus and head out for a new traveling adventure – Iowa’s byways. Explore these special roadways this fall or if you don’t want to do it now, make your plans for a spring adventure. These roadways represent the most beautiful, scenic and historic routes in Iowa. Two national scenic Byways (Great River Road & the Loess Hills Scenic Byway), ten Iowa scenic Byways, two heritage Byways and five historic trails provide great options and opportunities.
The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. Between 1992 and 2012, the National Scenic Byways Program funded 3,174 projects for state and nationally designated byway routes in 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes certain roads as All-American Roads or National Scenic Byways based on one of more archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. Currently, no federal grant applications are being accepted.
This Iowa program, modeled after the national effort, was established to identify, protect and enhance roadways in Iowa which exemplify the state’s scenic and historic resources. This effort is carried out through volunteer work and cooperation between interested citizens, organizations, local governments, and the DOT. The DOT designates a route as a State Scenic Byway on the basis of scenic and historic qualities, using established criteria. Applicants are then responsible for funding tourism and promotional plans. Federal grant opportunities may be available for scenic byways for certain infrastructure projects (see Iowa Federal Transportation Alternatives Program: https://iowadot.gov/systems_planning/grant-programs/transportation-alternatives.
Those 19 Byways and trails give you a wide diversity of experiences from spectacular landscapes to historic routes. You will experience countryside’s, forested valleys and charming villages. You can also explore a bounty of city, county, state and federal parks and natural areas along these routes, which boast some of Iowa’s most spectacular bird and wildlife watching opportunities as well as fishing, hiking and camping . There are plenty of photo opportunities, so have your camera at the ready.
Each Byway and trail has its own special signage to guide you along the way. Check out https://iowadot.gov/iowasbyways/iowa-byways-designation .
While traveling these routes you will run across great food and beverage experiences from the Gunderburger in NE Iowa to Czech kolaches in east central Iowa to a wide variety of local beers and wineries almost around every corner. In addition, each route will have special shops, museums, stores, art centers and public art along with collectible sales centers.
New additions to many of the Byways are surprise pieces of public art that are designed to reflect the special character and heritage of byway communities. These 16 public art installations were made possible by support and contributions from over 100 partners and organizations including the Byways of Iowa Foundation. Check out some of the photos below or on the website ( http://bywaysofiowa.org ).
To plan your trip and find all the best attractions along your route, visit https://www.traveliowa.com and select the Scenic Drives icon. Almost all the byways have a local coordinator you can contact directly for more specific advice or additional information.
Help make projects like this to continue to happen by becoming a sponsor of Keep Iowa Beautiful – https://keepiowabeautiful.org/become-a-sponsor