Sections of two highways in Western Wisconsin could become official Scenic Byways in 2009.
Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin (CSW) has proposed state Scenic Byway status for State Highway 33 from Portage to La Crosse. Planning for Highway 60, from Lodi to The Great River Road near Prairie du Chien, also is underway.
To date, only The Great River Road, which runs along the Mississippi River, has National Scenic Byway designation in Wisconsin. Highways that are in the state byways program can be considered for the national program.
CSW cites several purposes and advantages of the Scenic Byway designation. Through the program, tourism is further promoted and cooperation between local governments and businesses and civic groups encouraged.
Special signing is posted along Scenic Byways. Other brochures and marketing tools are available. Preservation of natural scenic attributes and historic places also can be made easier.
Scenic Byways also can be designated an All American Road and -- again -- be eligible for federal funding. Some of that funding, especially for infrastructure along the roadways, could be increased under the Obama Administration.
The 114-mile proposed byway of Highway 33 is mostly a rural two lane highway, It begins in Portage along the Wisconsin River, then runs west just north of the Baraboo Range through Baraboo to Reedsburg.
One of the most scenic sections runs through Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario. Switchbacks give you the feel of mountain driving through that area and views of the Kickapoo River Valley are spectacular.
Highway 33 then becomes a high ride road running through Middle Ridge, St Joseph and to La Crosse. Along that section of the road is Leo & Leona's tavern, the historic bar that has been previously featured in this column, and Irish Hills golf course, another previously-mentioned highlight of the area.
The proposed route includes sections in Columbia, Sauk, Juneau, Vernon, Monroe and La Crosse counties. It would begin at US Hwy 51 in Portage, cross I-90-94 and proceed west.
A series of meetings will be held along the proposed route of Hy. 33 in 2009 with the goal of completing the first stage within a year.
The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board already is working with local units of government to designate Hy. 60 from the Interstate near Lodi to the Great River Road near Prairie du Chien as a Scenic Byway.
Gov. Tommy Thompson signed the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway legislation in 1989. The Riverway currently extends 92.3 miles from near Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi River, near Prairie du Chien and encompasses 79,275 acres. The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for administering a land acquisition program within the project boundaries.
Although the Scenic Byways Program is administered through WisDOT, local groups can propose byways on a voluntary basis. This grassroots approach "ensures a strong local commitment to the promotion and long-term preservation of a scenic byway," according to the WisDOT Web site.
In the eastern part of the state, the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive and Great Lakes Circle Tour have America's Byways designation. The America's Byways program does provide benefits, but does not include some of the natural area protection and other aspects of the state and National Scenic Byway program, according to CSW.