MOLE LAKE - You can drive along plenty of scenic stretches of roads across Northern Wisconsin.
However, the state of Wisconsin only considers one stretch of highway in the Northwoods as an official scenic byway.
Leaders in a handful of counties want to change that by earning a distinction from Wisconsin's Scenic Byways program. They held a public planning meeting in Mole Lake Wednesday.
The proposed scenic highway, The Wolf River Nicolet Scenic Byway, is a more than 100 mile stretch of Highway 55. It stretches from Langlade, in Langlade County, north to the Michigan boarder.
Richard Ackley, Board of Directors Northwoods NIIJII Enterprise Community, has worked with the project since the early stages. He believes the distinction could serve as a marketing tool.
"People love coming here because of the pristine beauty," Ackley said. "What we want to do is, we want to enhance that with making it even better through a more structured promotion."
The byway project has passed the scenic evaluation portion of the process. It scored a 7.2 on an eight point scale based on pure scenic value. The scoring system adds points for natutal beauty, while docking points for things like build boards along the route.
Dennis Leong, Wisc. Department of Transportation (WisDOT), says that's a very strong number.
"For that type of score, people are coming to the area with an expectation of something extraordinary, so something more scenic than they would probably see," Leong said. "I think they'll probably see that when they come to this region of the state."
WisDOT leaders say the area and stretch of road is very unique compared to the four official scenic routes in Wisconsin.
"This is very unique because this is more a more natural setting, the other ones have been more tourists orientated over the years," Leong said. "I drove this and it seems to be more natural in the state and type of amenities it has."
Leong does note that there's still more to do to finish the second and final part of the project.
"So the next thing is now they have to get together and kind of manage the corridor," Leong said. (We ask) how are you going to promote that corridor, and what things did you want to say about drawing people to the area?"
Project leaders hoped the meeting Wednesday would help get more support from the community.
"The challenge that we have is making sure that everybody is knowledgeable about what the benefits will be and how everyone has a role to play," Ackley said. "We want everyone's input in making the scenic byway a success."
WisDOT leaders say 70 percent of the communities along the byway will need to approve the project.
The Wolf River Nicolet Scenic Byway on Highway 55 would be the first in North Central Wisconsin.
Wisconsin started designating scenic byways in 2005. A 1999 state law, Wisconsin Act 9, directed WisDOT to form and administer a state Scenic Byways program.
The four current byways are as follows;
- The Great River Road (WIS 35) between Prescott and Kieler;
- The Lower Wisconsin River Road (WIS 60) between Lodi and Prairie du Chien;
- The Door County Coastal Byway (WIS 42 & 57) circling the northern Door County peninsula
- The Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway (WIS 13) from US 2 to County H in northwest Wisconsin.