GALETON — Rural Pennsylvania is known for its natural beauty.
The PA Route 6 Alliance hopes to spread word of that beauty by getting a portion of U.S. Route 6 designated a Scenic Byway.
Route 6 runs east-west across the state’s northernmost counties. By doing that, it cuts through hundreds of miles of rural landscapes.
The alliance hopes to eventually gain designation as a Scenic Byway at both the state and federal levels, which can help market the route and the communities that sit along it.
According to Candace Hillyard, alliance executive director, the group has been actively working toward that status since around 2013.
The designation can be granted at the request of local communities that develop a plan to preserve and highlight qualities of an area such as natural, historical and recreational qualities.
It turned out to be a lofty goal to get every municipality along Pennsylvania’s Route 6 — 121 municipalities in 11 counties — on board with the idea.
The group eventually decided to scale down the project to focus on the Pennsylvania Wilds area, explained Hillyard. That area, with 34 municipalities spread across Warren, McKean, Potter and Tioga counties, is much more manageable.
To date, all but four of those municipalities have passed resolutions to give their support for the project.
Hillyard explained that some communities that hesitate to support the designation do so because they don’t want to be told what to do.
The designation would mean regulations on items such as the signage, according to Hillyard.
She explained, “While all of the outside attention and potential for local economic benefit is good, preserving the aesthetics along the corridor is important. One requirement of byway designation, both state and federal, is the enactment of signage regulations along the corridor. Current billboards will be able to remain, and on-premise business signage and temporary signage are allowed along the corridor.
“If Route 6 is legislatively designated a Pennsylvania Byway, then PennDOT — the Engineering District — would be in charge of enforcement of billboards and also approving and denying new signage permits,” she said.
The alliance has been reaching out to each municipality, one by one, and answering questions and concerns from officials and residents. Even with the pandemic happening, they were able to get seven municipalities to pass resolutions in 2020.
Hillyard is happy to talk with municipal officials or residents who have questions or concerns about the project.
She recalls presenting the idea to one township, and a local business owner asked if the designation could inhibit new development. Hillyard explained the designation does not prevent business development or on-premise signage — there would just be regulations on off-premise signage.
Hillyard is hopeful the PA Route 6 Alliance will reach its next step of getting resolutions from Eulalia Township in Potter County, two municipalities in Warren County and one in Tioga County.
With Mount Jewett Borough officials recently signing a resolution, “We now have 100% support in McKean County,” said Hillyard.
For any residents of these municipalities who would like to see a byway designation, she recommends they attend a municipal meeting to bring it up with local officials.
Then, Hillyard plans to try for Pennsylvania Scenic Byway status first before federal status.
She explained there are two different ways to achieve byway status in the state: by applying or by having legislation passed. The alliance proposed the idea at one point to a state legislator, who told them to “show us that this is what the local municipalities want.”
With resolutions from each, Hillyard hopes to do just that.
She plans to meet with legislators again this spring.
Once they receive Pennsylvania Byway status, “We will begin to analyze the feasibility of obtaining National Scenic Byway/All American Road designation,” Hillyard said. “This requires a Corridor Management Plan for the byway.”
Gov. Ed Rendell designated Pennsylvania’s Route 6 a state heritage area in 2005, and it is one of a dozen heritage areas in the state, according to Hillyard.
“Even before this designation, the Route 6 corridor was recognized as one of the most scenic driving routes in Pennsylvania and even the United States by a variety of sources including National Geographic Traveler, Car and Driver Magazine, Travelocity, RoadRUNNER and Harley Davidson,” she said.
Hillyard talked about goals the alliance is working toward when choosing projects such as the Scenic Byway designation.
“The PA Route 6 Alliance has continued its effort to preserve, enhance and promote the transportation heritage of one of the nation’s first transcontinental highways; to sustain and enhance the small rural communities linked by the highway; and to preserve and enhance the natural, scenic beauty of one of America’s favorite ‘road trips,’” she explained. “Our projects are as much about preservations as they are about economic and community development.”
More information on the project can be found at https://paroute6.com/byway-designation.