Driving tours feature the region's best historical, cultural, recreational resources

November 16, 2000

Driving tours feature the region's best historical, cultural, recreational resources

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

Travelers, there is a fork in the road up ahead:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> To one side is the mighty interstate, shiny and wide, multiple lanes and no stops between destinations. It is the open road, wild and free and cruise-control friendly.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Next to it, twisting and turning through mountains, valleys and small towns across Maryland, are the roads less traveled. They are the main streets and farm roads upon which the state was built, littered with historical treasures and breathtaking beauty.

This is the choice laid out before you. Highway or byway? A great asphalt jungle or the slow roll of a scenic diversion?


What will you do?

Maryland State Highway Administration is hoping travelers statewide will choose the roads less traveled, assembled in the Maryland Scenic Byways project.

"People might not be aware that there are these resources: Historical, cultural, recreational resources," says Terry Maxwell, state scenic byways coordinator. "The story of Maryland is really on these older roads, and here they are."

For three years, Maxwell worked with state and local authorities to assemble 31 driving tours of areas throughout the state. Each highlighting a specific area, they use Maryland's history and culture to build off of the previous scenic point initiative, which was more about pretty places to see.

Six of the scenic byways cut through Washington County in parts or in their entirety. Ben Hart, executive director of the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the program is a good way for both visitors and locals to become better acquainted with what the region has to offer.

"Most people don't know what they have in their back yard," Hart says. Especially when people are looking for inexpensive things to do, the byways provide an interactive activity for the entire family.

More than 800 signs will be erected across the state to promote the program. In addition, tourism books and maps are available at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The free books provide in-depth directions of each byway, including side trips to places, such as Harpers Ferry, W.Va., or Main Street in Smithsburg.

Economically, following the byways instead of the highways has potential benefits. Hart says the average stay in Washington County is 2.1 days. For every additional day someone stays in the area, they contribute $100 to the local economy.

"An underlying theme is to stop in this state and spend their time and their money," he says.

Touring the area is just one component of the byways program. Maxwell says it is just as important for local residents to invest in their communities. As a result, competitive grants are available through the National Scenic Byways Program.

"These communities that want to preserve what they have, what is special about them, can," Maxwell says. "We're hoping to get them involved in preserving what we're promoting."

Grants can be used to refurbish historic buildings or landscape Main streets. The result, Hart says, can resemble Dual Highway heading west into Hagerstown, where work was done to improve the median and clean up the approach into the city.

"It was just ugly getting into downtown," Hart says. "Now, instead of seeing an eyesore coming into town, it's a tenfold improvement over what it was."

Maxwell agrees.

"This can build pride within the community," he says. "When improvements are done to the road, this can be used as a tool to encourage improvements that would be sensitive to the history of the road. It's a tool; it's helping them to be more aware of what they've got."

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