Travel the Ohio Scenic Byways
By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
The road less traveled.
That’s the appeal of the Ohio Scenic Byways to Sharon Strouse.
It’s such a strong pull that Strouse has been involved in championing historic roadways for some 20 years. The retiree of OSU Extension is involved closely with the Amish Country Byway in the eastern part of Ohio, as well as being involved with the Ohio and National Scenic Byway programs. She is currently president-elect of the National Scenic Byway Foundation, which provides tools and training for byway leaders. She lives in Millersburg.
And yes, even now, it comes down to the road less traveled.
“Byways are a chance for people to get off that freeway, get off that fast lane, travel the slow lane, and start thinking about enhancing their experiences along the way to their destination,” Strouse said. “I think there’s a rebirth in the idea of traveling and enjoying the experience of the drive.”
There is plenty of culture in Ohio to see. Thomas Barrett is the byways coordinator for the state, a program run through the Ohio Department of Transportation, and he said there are 25 byways in Ohio.
To become a byway, there’s quite a bit of research and documentation involved, with the focus on showing value in these areas: archaeological, historical, scenic, cultural, recreational and natural.
“The scenic driving routes really coincide with the highway beautification movement from Lady Bird Johnson,” Barrett said, saying the program began about 1962 in Ohio.
“If you travel one of these routes, you can kind of take in some of these intrinsic sites, and it can be cultural and a learning experience or an escape,” Barrett said. “Get out and explore, really.”
Neal Brady, treasurer of the Miami Erie Canal Corridor Association, has been working since 2003 to improve the marketing of the area’s history for quality of life for local residents, tourism and the cultural experience. Area residents remember their Ohio history courses in school that detailed that the canal system was used for commerce before the railroads were built.
“This is the second-longest continuous portion of canal in the United States,” Brady said. “It’s very unique to have that.”
Everywhere you turn in Ohio is unique. The Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast road built squarely for the promotion of auto travel. Mike Hocker, director of the Ohio Lincoln Highway Historic Byway, is still enamored with that idea.
“A bunch of investors got together and realized they were not going to sell an increasing number of cars because cars literally could not drive on roads that existed,” Hocker said. “If they went more than 40 to 50 miles, they went by train or they went by oxcart, because the road was so bad they couldn’t get through them.”
Sections of the Lincoln are still the original brick.
“I think they need to think in terms that there’s more to do than just getting in the car and going to a destination,” Hocker said. “Think about how they go there and break up the monotony and go a different way or go with the purpose of looking and seeing.”
OHIO’S SCENIC BYWAYS
• For detailed maps, visit www.dot.state.oh.us/OhioByways/.
Amish Country: 160 miles; winding curves and rolling hills; Amish/German history, farms, B&Bs; also America’s Byways designation
Big Darby Plains: 27 miles, with spurs of more than 20 miles; Scenic Big Darby Creek views and parks; covered bridges; farms
Drivers’ Trail Scenic Byway: 37 miles; scenic vistas connecting two other byways, Historic National Road and Ohio River Scenic Byway; was a route frequented by farmers taking goods to market
Gateway to Amish Country: Kokosing and Mohican rivers; state’s longest covered bridge; trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding
Heritage Corridors of Bath: Hale Farm and Village, Bath Nature Preserve, Cuyahoga Valley National Park; early homes, barns, mills
Historic National Road: 225 miles; pike towns dot length; left behind by railroad popularity but resurged with modern automobiles; from West Virginia state line at the Ohio River to the Indiana state line; also America’s Byways designation
Hocking Hills: 26.4 miles; scenic hills; hiking, camping, outdoor activities
Jefferson Township: scenes of older barns and homes amid urbanization
Lake Erie Coastal Ohio: 293 miles; beaches, state parks, lighthouses, outdoor activities, museums, Cedar Point, Maumee State Scenic River; follows Erie shoreline from Conneaut to the Michigan border; also America’s Byways designation
Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches: 38.4 miles; German culture, Catholic church architecture, farms
Lincoln Highway Historic Byway: 241 miles; first coast-to-coast road for the car
Lower Valley Pike: 11 miles; Mad River, George Rogers Clark Park, historic homes, Estelle Wenrick Wetlands Preserve
Maumee Valley: 90 miles; former British Fort Miamis, Maumee River
Miami and Erie Canal: 54 miles; views of canal, Johnston Farm & Indian Agency, hiking
Morgan County: 39 miles; Burr Oak State Park, foothills of Appalachian Mountains
North Ridge: 9 miles; passes by more than 100 historic homes that date to the 1830s
Ohio & Erie Canalway: canal history, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, farms, nature preserves, northern industry, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Ohio River Scenic Byway: 452 miles; entire length of the Ohio River in Ohio; scenic views of the valley and small river towns; also America’s Byways designation
The Old Mill Stream Scenic Byway: Blanchard River, “Down by the Old Mill Stream” written by Hancock County native Tell Taylor as he looked at the Blanchard; farms, parks
Olentangy Heritage Corridor: 10 1/2 miles; follows Indian trails of the Olentangy River; river, barns, churches, houses
Presidential Pathways: 55 miles; Miami University, Hueston Woods State Park; follows lives of Presidents William Henry Harrison and grandson Benjamin Harrison
Scioto Heritage Trail: ties into Ohio River Scenic Byway; Ohio River, Shawnee State Forest, Roy Rogers’ home, Branch Rickey history, overlooks valley
Tappan-Moravian Trail: 55 miles; Tappan Lake, Clendening Lake, birthplace of George Armstrong Custer
Wally Road: Mohican and Walhonding valleys; Toledo, Walhonding Valley and Ohio Railroad (the “Wally”); forests, ravines, wetlands
Welsh Scenic Byway: 64 miles; Welsh churches, farms and cemeteries; Bob Evans Homestead; Raccoon Creek and Daniel Boone history
Barrett: He grew up in Newark/Licking County, and often used the National Road on drives to Springfield. He currently lives near Worthington and loves the Olentangy byway, especially by motorcycle. “It’s really kind of taking the scenic route right out of your back door,” he said.
Hocker: He enjoys the Lincoln Highway’s stretch east of Mansfield and west of Wooster. It winds through hills and is very easy to imagine how the drive would have been in the 1920s.
Brady: He suggests visiting Johnston Farm, where you can take a canal boat ride, and checking out Fort Loramie/Minster/New Bremen to see the old structures and the communities.
Strouse: Her favorite summer drives are near water. She enjoys the Maumee Valley Scenic Byway along the Maumee River, because there are lots of towns for tourism activities. The Lake Erie Coastal Trail is also a draw because of its wineries, restaurants and sunset views of the lake. And, of course, the Ohio River byway has lots of eateries with patios overlooking the river.