As peak foliage colors spread across the Green Mountains, it’s not a bad time to go for a drive or a bike ride. One good route is the newly-expanded Green Mountain Byway.
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But if you’ve never heard of the Green Mountain Byway, you’re not alone.
John Decker, owner of the Stowe Public House & Bottle Shop, on Main Street in Stowe, admitted he doesn't know anything about it. That's despite the fact that Stowe’s Main Street is also Route 100, and that stretch of 100 is part of the Green Mountain Byway.
In fact, until a couple of weeks ago, the entire byway consisted of Main Street in Waterbury and, on the other side of exit 10 off Interstate 89, Route 100 up through Stowe. Now the state-designated scenic byway reaches deeper into Lamoille County, through the towns of Morristown, Hyde Park, Johnson and Cambridge.
Robert Moore, the regional transportation planner at Lamoille County Planning Commission, said the newly extended Green Mountain Byway is the only one of Vermont’s 10 designated scenic byways where travelers can complete a big loop.
The loop starts in Stowe, heads north up Route 100 into Morristown, west on Route 15 through Hyde Park, Johnson and into Cambridge, then down Route 108 South and back to Stowe (of course, that’s only during the part of the year when there’s no snow and Route 108 is open through Smugglers’ Notch).
Moore said the scenic byway designation is essentially just a route on a map, yet it offers tourism opportunities to towns and businesses. The state promotes the byways through its Vermont Vacation website.
Up until recently, the scenic byway designation came with federal dollars attached for signs and marketing materials like maps, websites and mobile apps. Now, Moore said, the towns will have to find other ways to fund those tools. He said the towns may have to come up with some local matching dollars, but there are grants that can help.
"There’s a lot of tourism and marketing and recreation funding through private sources available," Moore said.
While the byway designation isn't considered high-profile by some Stowe merchants like Decker, the new towns on the route see some potential.
Tricia Follert, the community development coordinator in Morristown, said she’s excited about the designation.
"How I see it, for what it’s gonna do for our community, is it’s gonna draw another whole set of people that come here," she said. "You know, now that we have the rail trail in our downtown in Morrisville — which has been a fabulous attraction to start with — now when you put the byway [in] all these people that are touring around and see that it’s right here in our downtown, it’s great."
The first step for the new towns, Follert said, is ordering signs to mark the Green Mountain Byway. Then they’ll get to work on funding and creating an attraction map and eventually a mobile app for the new, northern portion of the byway.
Follert said they hope to take advantage of the QR readers most people now have on their smartphones.
"And even if we start out with a very basic [setup] on our QR reader, that showed the map and a couple highlights in each town, that would be a great start," she said. "We all know that this is gonna be a long process, you know, years in the making."
Back at the Stowe Public House, on the original section of the byway, Decker said even without those tools, he’ll continue to direct his customers to venture further down Route 100.
"Me being a craft beer store, I call Route 100 the Yellow Brick Road of Vermont for craft beer," he said. "There’s so much that comes off of Route 100 that you can get to by driving Route 100. It’s a beautiful scenic route. You can hit Alchemist. You can hit Lost Nation, Rock Art, Ten Bends – that’s just in our area alone."
Now you can get to all those breweries, as well as other Lamoille County attractions, just by following the Green Mountain Byway.