Big boost for ‘Byways’; two grants totaling $204K

The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway

Scenic byways are known for the stories they tell about the landscape.

San Juan Islands Scenic Byways Partnership has been awarded two recent grants (through the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation) to help tell the stories of the natural and cultural history of routes on the islands and surrounding waters.

“Now that we have an ‘official’ scenic byway we can apply for more grants to bring more visitors, educate and receive more monetary resources,” said Deborah Hopkins, director of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau and scenic byway leader. “Eventually we’d like to apply for National Scenic Byway status.”

The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway, made official in 2008, includes San Juan Island, Orcas Island and the ferry routes. It is Washington’s first marine route and consists of a 30-mile marine route and an 85-mile land route. It begins at the ferry dock in Anacortes and travels through Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and Orcas Village on Orcas Island.

Alaska is the only other state in the nation to have a marine route in its scenic byway.

Shaw and Lopez opted to stay out of the byway.

Hopkins said the two grants couldn’t have come at a better time, as the partnership is almost finished with its Corridor Management Plan, which outlines strategies to manage tourism and protect natural and cultural resources.

“It also defines the kind of tourist we want to attract,” said Liz Illg, scenic byway coordinator. “We want visitors that take an interest in the natural and historical preservation, we want people who want to learn about local farming and who want to get out of their cars to explore the island.”

The first grant, of $33,190, will be used for creating and posting signs for the routes. The current sign, shown left, features Mt. Baker, a madrone tree, and a ferry on the water.

“Many people don’t even know about the scenic byway,” said Hopkins, who hopes the signs will bring awareness to not only the route, but preservation and conservation of these areas. “In the future we could have signs for sub-tours, like a farms and barns loop, or a history and culture loop.”

The second grant , totaling $171,680, will be used to explore transportation alternatives for visitors and locals traveling the byway, namely a shuttle pilot project.

“The shuttles are a public benefit,” Illg said. “We want to build local enthusiasm to support local businesses.”

Illg and Hopkins are looking at ways to entice people to ride buses instead of driving their own cars, like offering coupons to ride a shuttle.

“What will get people to ride the bus?” Illg asks. “I don’t know yet, but stay tuned to find out.”

They have been working with Orcas Island Shuttle and San Juan Transit to promote “car-less travel,” said Hopkins, who would also like to create better bike lanes on the byway.Other plans include bathroom facilities, wildlife viewing maps, road improvement, view sheds for interpreting plants and history.

For Illg, the first step is promoting the byway and then to get feedback from the community.

“Basically scenic byways allow local people to talk about visitors and talk about how visitors affect our community,” Illg said. “It helps us manage tourism and the impacts on residents. There’s always aw love/hate relationship with tourism, but people coming here and buying locally, and eating at restaurants benefits the community.”

To get more info, or to download a byway map visit

If you want to get involved or be notifed about upcoming focus groups, contact the visitor’s bureau at 1-888-468-3701 or at