Robin Reynolds owns a small business in Hebron, a southwest North Dakota town along Highway 10 about 2 miles off of Interstate 94.
Like so many other small towns in the state, Hebron has seen busier times.
“When the interstate came in, these small towns emptied out,” Reynolds said.
Since the Old Red/Old Ten Scenic Byway was established in 2008 through the state’s Scenic Byway Program, Reynolds said the towns along Highway 10 have benefited from tourists who have abided by the byway’s motto and taken “a different route.”
“Local folks won’t see the merit as readily as a tourist,” said Reynolds, president of Old Red/Old Ten Scenic Byway Committee. “We’re used to it. It’s our Empire State Building. I also think that the value of it has been cumulative in ways that many of us don’t even know about. That there’s unseen benefits.”
Old Red/Old Ten is the newest of the state’s 10 scenic byways and backways established since 1997 through the North Dakota Scenic Byway Program. At 108 miles, it’s also the longest of the byways, transversing most of the western half of the state.
The state program, however, enters its second decade with uncertainty after federal funding for the National Scenic Byway Program was discontinued.
It was one of the many reasons that prompted the state Parks and Recreation Department and North Dakota Department of Transportation — the organizations which oversee the state’s scenic byways and backways — to collaborate and create the first strategic plan for the future of the state’s off-the-beaten-path roads as the committees that oversee them strive to stay relevant to tourists as North Dakota’s population grows and funding programs change.
Kevin Stankiewicz, the state byway coordinator with the state Parks Department, said the 2014-19 Strategic Plan was primarily a way for the organizations to put their ideas on paper in case funding requests must be made in the future, or if groups apply to designate a road as a scenic byway.
Stankiewicz said the elimination of scenic byway program funding in the 2012 transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act — commonly known as MAP-21 — led to the creation of the organization’s strategic plan.
“There’s not the money they used to have that was geared toward that,” he said.
The North Dakota Scenic Byway Program is administered collaboratively by the state Department of Transportation and Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees 10 scenic byways in North Dakota — including four west of the Missouri River.
The strategic plan identifies goals such as creating awareness, and developing brands and support for the byways.
“We wanted to set some goals for the individual byways for them to work on,” said Ben Kubischta, the recently retired transportation enhancement program coordinator for the transportation department “We set some goals for the byways, and also identified some strategies that the state would use to help the byways.”
Stankiewicz said the strategic plan will be implemented in “baby steps.”
“It’s just to get that out there,” he said. “Our next step is to meet with some of the byways and move forward from there.”
Kubischta, who has been a part of the state’s Scenic Byway Program since its inception, called the strategic plan a “blueprint” for the organizations that oversee the program as the state’s population increases, roads become more heavily traveled and tourism demographics change.
“All strategic plans are really good,” Kubischta said. “They give you a guide to work on. You don’t always know exactly what’s in there. You have this guide, this blueprint that sets forth goals and ideas and strategies for the next five-year period.”