It may not be Publisher's Clearinghouse, but communities in rural Utah are still competing tooth-and-nail in the "Scenic Byways" sweepstakes.
A committee of local, state and federal officials has been meeting to determine which scenic highways in Utah will receive a national "Scenic Byways" designation.The list has been winnowed to about 30 highways (half of those submitted), but the list is far from completed. A final list could be prepared by January.
While the sweepstakes may not seem like much to the masses living along the Wasatch Front, to people living in scenic rural Utah the nationally recognized designation could mean millions of tourist dollars every year.
"Travelers pick out those scenic byways designations when they plan their vacations," said Ann King, assistant director of the Utah Travel Council. "It's a tremendous marketing tool."
Like Utah, states across the nation are developing criteria to designate certain state highways as scenic byways, a designation that traditionally attracts millions of motorists who prefer the scenic route to the quickest or easiest route.
The "Scenic Byways" designation will eventually be noted on maps and then promoted heavily in such travel clubs as AAA and Good Sam.
Utah highways certain to be included are nationally famous routes like U-12 from Torrey, Wayne County, to Bryce Canyon and U-95, the so-called Bicentennial Highway from Hanksville, Wayne County, to Blanding.
For communities along scenic byways, the designation means an economic shot in the arm. For those left off, it will make the struggle to develop tourism even more difficult.
King recognizes the selection of "Scenic Byways" is a political hot potato. Arguments can be made for virtually every highway in the state to be labeled with the national designation.
But realistically, Utah cannot designate more than 25-30 highways as "Scenic Byways." Any more than that and the state loses credibility with the traveling public.
But with so many more scenic highways than can be designated, some communities are going to be left out in the cold. And that is going to anger communities along those routes.
"It's a subjective process of selecting which highways to include and which to leave out," said King. "But I don't think we've left anybody out of the nominating process. And we are judging them on a specific set of criteria."
That criteria state that to qualify as a "Scenic Byway," the road must be a primary or secondary highway. No dirt roads or roads to narrow for recreational vehicles qualify, nor do federal interstates.
Roads must be particularly scenic or possess some type of unique geology. They must also be safe for large numbers of recreational vehicles. While some Eastern states have scenic byways that restrict commercial traffic, Utah's scenic byways will not.
The highways will have signs and turn-outs to match the national standard.
The committee making the selection is composed of representatives of the Utah Travel Council, Utah Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Federal Highway Administration, Utah League of Cities and Towns, National Park Service, the Color Country Travel Council, Mountainland Travel Council, the Six-County Association of Governments and the Utah Association of Counties.
To qualify, members of the 12-person committee must agree to the designation with no more than one dissenting vote. If two members dissent, the road is dropped from consideration, regardless of its merits.
"We're lucky here because the state is so scenic," said King. "Our problem is we have too much scenery. We have to be careful we pick only the very best."