All-American Road Status for Highway 12 - Is it a blessing or a curse?

by Toni Thayer


ESCALANTE, UTAH. A few area residents have expressed an interest in applying for the three “Members-at-Large” seats on the Scenic Byway 12 Committee recently announced by the Garfield County Travel Council.

...They broke us up into separate workgroups with the sole intent of naming our favorite spots and any dangerous areas. There was no room for dissent. You were either for it, or you had no voice at all. It was a manufactured process with a pre-determined outcome.”

However, people are confused over the new All-American Highway status awarded to the entire length of Highway

12, from its intersection at Highway 89 to Highway 24 at Torrey. They have questions about the types of available grants, the relative use of the grants for local needs, and possible, future restrictions to private property and rights as a result of the Federal designation.

There’s still talk about a planning process that was cloaked in ambiguities and meetings structured to gather local public knowledge rather than for answers, comments and concerns. Some have alleged illegal actions by the steering committee in accepting Escalante City’s approval after the public comment period ended to meet the Federal requirement of approval by all affected towns.

In an interview on March 16, Myron Carter of Escalante said the public was not given adequate information or opportunity to respond to the proposal, “In all of the meetings they were rushing and telling us to hurry up and get this done because we’re out of time. They broke us up into separate workgroups with the sole intent of naming our favorite spots and any dangerous areas. There was no room for dissent. You were either for it, or you had no voice at all. It was a manufactured process with a pre-determined outcome.”

Carter doubts whether many local residents have enough knowledge today to even form an opinion on the road status, “This was a Federally-driven project, proposed by the Dixie National Forest. It did not originate from the people living along the highway.”

He was actively involved during the planning process in 2001 by gathering signatures on a petition against the U.S. government guidelines and restrictions that come with the Federal grant money. He said, “They put us in a bind time-wise with the public comment deadline, but I got 180 signatures [a little over half of Escalante’s adult population] and turned the petition in on time.”

In fact, Garfield County News’ reports at the time indicate that the steering committee did not give any press releases or news publications on the public comment deadline and town meetings set in Sept. 2001. This newspaper did print an article notifying area residents of the upcoming meeting dates from information in a letter mailed by the steering committee to interested individuals.

An exact date of the public comment deadline could not be confirmed, but the news article lists mid-Nov. 2001 as the completion date of the Corridor Management Plan (CMP), the document that set forth the proposal, and Dec. 31, 2001 as the deadline date for submittal to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

Needless to say, when the CMP was completed and showed endorsements from all towns along Highway 12, Carter was surprised because Escalante City Council Members had voted against it on Dec. 18. According to the minutes of that Council meeting, their decision was “due to the lack of information and communication”.

Upon further investigation, Carter discovered that on Jan. 15, 2002, after the public comment deadline date, the Escalante City Council, with newly elected and seated members, approved the project and overturned the previous City Council’s "no" vote.

According to Bruce Fullmer, Garfield County Travel Council Director, in a telephone interview on Mar. 17, 2003, “The project formally originated from a Feb. 2001 meeting spearheaded by the Dixie National Forest. In attendance at that meeting was myself and representatives from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the National Park Service, and the Dixie National Forest.”

Fullmer said the final application was submitted to and approved by the FHA in June 2002. He also clarified the grant process as an ongoing one, throughout the year, but with an annual deadline in late spring after budget appropriations by Congress.

As far as types of projects that can be funded, Fullmer remarked, “The sky’s the limit, but it should be something that enhances or improves the communities along the highway.” A review of the projects funded since 1992 shows that the majority were for tourist interpretive materials, signs, kiosks and information centers.

Fullmer also gave information on who could apply for the grants. “Individual business owners cannot apply for grants to upgrade their buildings unless it’s a historical building and they have the endorsement of their town or Chamber of Commerce. The grant request can only be made by a town, a chamber of commerce, or a state or federal agency.”

The grant application (online at has eight categories of funding:

State byway program development and planning.
Corridor Management Plans to protect the region’s characteristics and to provide for increased tourism and related amenities.
Safety improvements that only accommodate increased traffic and different vehicle types.
Byway facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, rest area, turnout, highway shoulder improvement, passing lane, overlooks, and/or interpretive facility.
Enhancement of recreational access.
Protection of scenic, historical, recreational, cultural, natural, and archeological resources in an adjacent area.
Tourist information distributed to the public, including interpretive materials.
Marketing program inclusive of the entire byway.

Off-site advertising, like a billboard, is explicitly eliminated from scenic byways. This disappoints Escalante Frosty Shop owner Bill Weppner as he feels that’s one thing that could improve his tourist business. He’d like to see one community sign located on either end of town, listing all of the businesses.

This isn’t Weppner’s first experience with a scenic byway, having lived on Highway 35, the Great River Road, in Wisconsin, one of the first in the nation to carry the byway sign. He stated, “Was the area pretty? Sure, it had rolling landscapes and hills. But the byway status did not increase tourism; the area had tourism already.”

Weppner has personal concerns as a business owner and an interested resident over Federal restrictions and lack of communication by the steering committee on how he might benefit from the grants.

He explained, “We definitely need public restrooms and rest stops, but those ideas seemed to get swept aside in the planning meetings. I’m also really concerned that the focus will be on the western side of Bryce Canyon and that the eastern towns might not get the same benefits from the program.”

"Lots of folks want some answers to these questions that have still not been addressed," Carter said. Here they are:

How did this idea start?
Who's behind it?
Who really benefits from it?
How will Federal restrictions limit the use of our personal and business private properties located within the highway's area of influence and surrounding viewshed?
Does the requirement of ensuring a safe tourist experience mean lower speed limits?
Does it mean no semi-trucks during the day?

These issues are addressed in the next segment:


All-American Road Status for Highway 12: Questions Answered

How did this idea start?

The Federal Register notice of May 18, 1995, states that the early history of the national scenic byways program can be traced to a study in 1966 and, more recently, to 1991 studies for an interim program founded by the Transportation Appropriations Act of 1990. From the studies, a national advisory committee drafted the aspects of the program along with the criteria to receive national scenic designation.

From the world viewpoint, the scenic byways program blends two United Nations’ treaties, the Global Biological Diversity Assessment and Agenda 21. These work plans for the world’s “nation-states” spell out strategies and management tools to simultaneously achieve biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic development.

As resources are protected and related economies are shut down and eliminated, the U.N. provides directives on rural development in “protected areas” to rebuild the local economies while also preserving the area’s resources.

A newly discovered list of the U.N.’s world protected areas in Utah contains numerous local sites, including: Henry Mountains, Escalante Canyons, Devil’s Garden, Phipps-Death Hollow, North Escalante Canyons, Gulch, Anasazi and Escalante Petrified Forest State Parks, Kodachrome Basin, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Box-Death Hollow Wilderness.

Because these natural wonders are on the world’s protected list, they must be managed according to the U.N.’s mandates, Tourism in Protected Areas, Environmental Codes of Conduct for Tourism, and Ecotourism. These include a transportation directive to local governments and the tourism sector to design strategies and projects that reduce mobility of tourists, increase required services and provide incentives for walking and cycling.

Who’s behind it?

Scenic Byway 12, Journey Through Time, Draft Corridor Management Plan (CMP) lists the players and the dates. They are:

U.S. Forest Service designates highway as scenic in their program.

State of Utah gives designation as a State Scenic Byway.

Utah Dept. of Transportation (UDOT) incorporates designation into “corridor” planning.

2001 Jan
Dixie National Forest holds a workshop for other Federal agencies and local officials for the national designation.

2001 Feb
Steering committee is formed of local officials, businesses and residents. Decision is made to develop a CMP and to carry the idea forward to the public.

2001 May
Five County Association of Governments is hired to produce the CMP and prepare the All-American Road status application.

2001 Jun
Color Country Rural Conservation and Development Council becomes the financial manager and non-profit agency for the steering committee.

2001 Jul
First round of town meetings are held in 5 byway communities.

2001 Oct-Nov
Second round of town meetings are held in same 5 byway communities.

2001 Nov
CMP is finalized and application is submitted to the Federal Highway Administration [Note: Last week’s article revealed that Escalante City approved this scenic byway plan on Jan. 15, 2002, after the public comment deadline. However, the project could not continue through Escalante without their approval, because the Federal Register and the U.N. directives explicitly state that all participation is entirely voluntary.]


In a telephone interview on March 20, Garfield County Commissioner Clare Ramsay noted, “The County Commissioners supported it because we thought it would be a vehicle to bring more tourists. It was our particular desire to bring it to the eastern part of the county and to help that area. We felt like it’d be good for business.” [Note: I believe this is true, the commissioners had only the best intentions.]

Who really benefits from it?

The following amounts are actual grants awarded and funded by the National Scenic Byways Program for the years 1992 through 2002, subtotaled by the eight grant categories (from

Access to recreational sites $ 14,400 0%
Corridor Management Plans 5,892,224 56%
Facilities for tourists 873,000 8%
Information for tourists 2,578,215 24%
Marketing for entire byway 798,993 8%
Programs for states 371,600 4%
Protection of resources 35,000 0%
Safety 0 0%
___________ ______

Total Grants Paid 1992-2002 10,563,432 100%

As you can see, over half of the grants have been given to develop a region’s planning document, the CMP. These CMPs must then be approved by the states and Federal agencies. The standardized goals and objectives of the CMPs meet the U.N’s directives for sustainable tourism and ecotourism development.

How will Federal restrictions limit the use of our personal and business private properties located within the highway’s area of influence and surrounding viewshed?

Many who backed the scenic designation believe no local control has been lost. Ramsay said, “The bottom line is that UDOT still controls the highway and has the right-of-way. The Federal government has no say or control over it. The benefit is the money disbursements from the Federal Highway Administration.”

He went on to say that due to local concerns, the commissioners added a phrase to the CMP, retaining the right to de-designate the All-American Road status if they discover it is not a benefit to Garfield County. However, the 1995 Federal Register Notice says only the Secretary of Transportation may de-designate National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads and all policies and procedures contained within the Notice must be followed by Federal and State agencies.

Remember back to President Clinton’s Proclamation designating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It did not, in itself, change any uses. The subsequent Federal restrictions and elimination of uses have come through the management plans that have followed the designation.

The Highway 12 CMP was the document submitted and approved with local plans and “Proposed Actions”. It is these plan goals that will result in future restrictions and town and county obligations, such as protection of resources and night-time skies, development of design review and sensitive planning and zoning, providing recreational facilities, preservation and protection of visual quality, consolidation of business signage into one single unit, aesthetic road barriers rather than concrete, design and color standards for signs, rest areas, facilities, exhibits and kiosks.

The Federal Register discusses enforcement three separate times, particularly for the more stringent designation, All-American Road, and gives the states the responsibility of enforcing the CMP and protecting the highway’s intrinsic qualities.

Does the requirement of ensuring a safe tourist experience mean lower speed limits?

Available documentation for existing scenic byways did not give speed limits for the roads. All national scenic byways must be maintained “with particularly high standards, not only for travelers’ safety and comfort, but also for preserving the highest levels of visual integrity and attractiveness.” The Highway 12 CMP identifies safety problems for the locals and the tourists, but gives the responsibility for maintenance and safety to UDOT to be addressed in a separate Corridor Study.

Does it mean no semi-trucks during the day?

The national program requires the CMP “to accommodate commerce while maintaining a safe and efficient level of highway service, including convenient user facilities.”

The Highway 12 CMP encourages and coordinates with UDOT to consider “bicycle and pedestrian concerns” in all future highway construction projects and to get “more pullouts, passing lanes, visitor centers, restroom facilities, and emergency services.” Under Design Standards, the CMP declares that all design improvements should serve the public, commerce, resource extractive industry, land management and safety.

The Federal government manages 95% of the lands in Garfield County. It makes sense that they want control of the highway passing through those lands and another avenue of Federal funding to provide services and facilities for the tourists they’re bringing into the area.

The actual funded projects indicate the real reason for the program, more Federal planning, management and identification of the region’s assets and resources which, in turn, keeps the United States in compliance with U.N. directives from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference on Biodiversity.


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