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Scenic Byways – Sept 2019

August 12, 2019

Scenic Byways: Leading native New Yorkers, visitors to the best of the state


Scenic Byways

SPARKLING BLUE — A view of Lake Minnewaska along the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway. Credit: Linda Engler – Ad Essentials.

Most of us drive the roads of New York every day. To and from work, school, the store, or on vacation. But not all roadways are created equal. Some have more value beyond a means to get from Point A to Point B than others and that value is what can set them apart as New York State Scenic Byways.

PEF member Christine Colley, a senior landscape architect with the state Department of Transportation (DOT), is the coordinator for New York’s Scenic Byways Program.

Despite their name, “not all byways are just scenic, some tell a story,” said Colley. “Certain portions of the state highway system have scenic, historic, recreational, cultural and archaeological value and are worthy of designation as a scenic byway,” she said, quoting New York’s Highway Law § 349-aa.

“Byways are a great way to learn about the history of the state of New York,” Colley said. “Many are fun and exciting. They have great things to do. Great activities, great places to visit, great hotels and restaurants. If you enjoy outdoor activities, like hiking and biking, they are a great way to see the state. Scenic byways are an in-depth way to see history and go through the small towns and great Main Streets that we have to offer.”

New York has three national scenic byways — the Great Lakes Seaway Trail; the Lakes to Locks Passage, which is designated an All American Road; and the Mohawk Towpath Byway. The All American Road designation held by the Lakes to Locks Passage means the byway has to be “a destination,” Colley said. “This would be something where people say, ‘I’m going to go to Lakes to Locks. And I’m going to vacation along the road while I’m there.’ A lot of the local attractions want to be a part of it.”

In addition to the three national byways, New York has 27 state designated scenic byways across the state:

The state Legislature enacted the Scenic Byway Program in 1992 to guide and coordinate the activities of state agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations in order to create a comprehensive program to serve the public interest, Colley said.


Colley supervises two landscape architects in the Landscape Architecture Bureau. “We run the day-to-day scenic byways program,” she said. “I’m the coordinator but I don’t do it alone, I have a great staff. They do a lot and have really helped pull the program together.”

The staff update and maintain the Byways website, answer phone calls and emails concerning the program, work with scenic byway coordinators in each region, review capital contracts for adherence to corridor management plans (CMPs), and provide information for grassroots organizations seeking designation for new byways, just to name a few tasks.

Scenic Byways

WINDING ROAD — The Hawks Nest segment of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Credit: David B. Soete.
CREEKSIDE — A view of the Cazenovia Creek in West Falls, along the Southtowns Scenic Byway. Credit: Robert Lennartz, President of the Southtowns Scenic Byways Organization.

“Scenic byway designation is an incredibly difficult process,” Colley said. “Sometimes people don’t realize how hard it is.”

In order to receive a state designation, detailed and specific information is required, including a resource inventory; a byway theme and narrative; a corridor management plan; and off-site outdoor advertising restriction considerations.

“The Corridor Management Plan (CMP) must have a completed and detailed sign inventory. After the byway is approved, no other ROW signs are allowed to be erected,” Colley said. “All municipalities must buy into this.” It’s up to the organizations to seek resolutions of support from local governing bodies. “It is terrifically difficult to gather all of the municipal resolutions of support. Many view the byway program as having the ability to change or control land use. While this is not the case, it is difficult for us to shake this perception.”

Hawk's Nest

PROPER SIGNAGE — The historic marker that corresponds to the Hawks Nest in the town of Deepark, Orange County, along the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, seen above. Credit: David B. Soete.

According to the guidebook available on the DOT website titled, “Building Your Byway from the Ground Up,” community backing behind a byway project is vital. “Having a respected, visible champion capable of forcefully propelling, guiding and sustaining the often time-consuming process of scenic byway designation can be one of the most important factors to success,” the guidebook states.

The book offers guidance to organizations on choosing the intrinsic value of the proposed byway. “Intrinsic values are what define the byway,” Colley said. “They are the theme of the byway, if you will. Some are historic. They link together historic sites and tell a story.” Other themes can be recreational, cultural, natural, and archaeological. Some byways boast more than one theme.

For designated and to-be designated byways, Colley’s office is ready to assist. “We provide support to the byway organizations in a number of ways. For example, we recently took soil samples and conducted a visual impact assessment for a local project on a byway route. These analyses were not included in the agreement with the Consultant.” Her office reaches out to byway organizations to make them aware of grant opportunities and application deadlines. They have also provided graphic design services for logos and the DOT department makes sure that each designated byway has proper signage.

In addition to her byways duties, Colley performs the regular duties of a senior landscape architect at DOT. Her days are varied and always busy.

At DOT, landscape architects are responsible for a range of specialized tasks including technical assistance and advice to engineering staff on environmental issues and regulations; environmental analysis and coordination of permit applications and interaction with public and private entities; assistance with erosion and sediment control and storm water management plans; wetland delineations; and more.

Colley started her career in landscape architecture by pursuing an associate’s degree in horticulture. “I knew I wanted to continue on with school,” she recalled. The problem was — she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue next. Her eventual calling came to light when a professor in her horticulture program asked her to come to the board one day and draw a cricket. “I did a really good job,” she recalled, “and he said you should go into landscape architecture — you can draw.”

She went on to graduate from the landscape architecture master’s degree program at the University of Texas at Arlington. “I love plant material,” she said. “My backyard is full of plants. I was motivated to go into this field because of my love of plants and design.”

Colley received her AAS in horticulture in 1988, her master’s in landscape architecture in 1997, and began working with DOT in October of 2001. She began in DOT Region 5 (Buffalo) and now works in DOT’s Main Office in Colonie, just outside Albany.

All the schooling was necessary because the requirements to become a landscape architect at DOT are high.

“To be hired as a junior landscape architect at DOT an applicant must have either a bachelor’s or higher degree in landscape architecture from a college or university that has been accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB), be registered and licensed to practice landscape architecture by New York state or possess a landscape architect’s license,” Colley said.

A typical day for Colley could include reviewing specifications; drafting or reviewing policy or guidance documents; processing billing from active byway contracts; answering public questions on scenic byways; reviewing staff work on updates to the internal and external webpages; coordinating with principal investigators on research projects; and working on a special or regional project.

“I enjoy every aspect of my job at DOT,” Colley said.

Scenic Byways

LIGHTING THE WAY — The Braddock Point Lighthouse along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. Credit: Rebecca Walker for the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Inc.
BIKING THE BYWAY — Bikers taking part in a Bike the Byway event near the Mohawk Valley, west of the Riverview Road bluff in Rexford along the Mohaawk Towpath Byway. Credit: Mohawk Towpath Byway.

CLICK HERE to view all stories featured in the September 2019 Communicator!