Two of Colorado’s scenic byways, both in southern regions of the state, have become part of the National Scenic Byway Program.
The National Scenic Byway Program includes 184 designated byways in 48 states. The routes highlight America’s history, natural beauty and landmarks – and provide an economic boost to surrounding areas. With the new designations, Colorado has more national scenic byways than any other state.
“These new designations are a tribute to this great state and characterize the breadth of its beautiful landscapes, history and culture,” said Shoshana Lew, Colorado Department of Transportation executive director, in a news release Thursday. “In addition to providing new and exciting adventures for travelers, our scenic and historic byways help protect these much-valued areas of Colorado.”
The state’s newest American Byways, announced this week, are the Highway of Legends, an 82-mile route through Huerfano and Las Animas counties, and Silver Thread, a 117-mile route through Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties.
Designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, these national byways are recognized for their outstanding scenic and historic attributes. With the new designations, Colorado has 13 American Byways.
The state’s byways are an important asset for economic development, with an economic impact of nearly $4.8 billion over a six-year period, according to the CDOT news release. The Highway of Legends provided nearly $180 million in economic benefit and the Silver Thread more than $67 million.
“What a remarkable nod to our state’s timeless beauty and a well-deserved recognition for the efforts of Colorado citizens to share it with everyone,” said Nathan Boyless, chairman of Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways Commission, in the release. “The open road beckons, scenic travels!”
The state’s scenic byway program, established in 1989, has designated six byways in Southwest Colorado, including the widely traveled San Juan Skyway. The 236-mile route passes through La Plata, Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties.
“We look forward to the byways bringing awareness to our beautiful and scenic part of the state,” said Brooke Henderson, operations manager with Visit Durango. “We also hope that this will encourage visitors and locals alike to protect and preserve this beautiful land and its history.”
Colorado’s newest byway, Tracks Across Borders, was designated in 2015 and also passes through Durango.
The state byway then meanders through Ignacio and Arboles before crossing the Colorado-New Mexico border and ending in Chama.
The 125-mile route (with 89 miles in Colorado) follows the historical San Juan Extension of the 1880s Denver & Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado’s first and the nation’s largest narrow-gauge railroad system.
The byway connects the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, Chimney Rock National Monument, Navajo Lake, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and La Plata County.
“It’s a source of revenue for the town as well as the tribe because it will introduce tourists to spots like the casino, the Southern Ute Museum and small businesses around Ignacio,” said Edward Box III, an Ignacio town trustee who is on the Tracks Across Borders Byway Commission.
The railroad used to stop at a depot just south of town, Box said. Residents of Ignacio and La Boca have passed down an oral history about the depot, including the time it was featured in the film, “Around the World in 80 Days.”
“It has a rich history with it,” Box said.
In addition to supporting the state’s 26 byways, the state’s byway program also supports two All-American roads, 10 national forest scenic byways and two Bureau of Land Management backcountry byways. The statewide system is made up of nearly 2,600 miles of roads through 48 of Colorado’s 64 counties.