LANSING-State transportation officials made official last week a status Lansing leaders have sought for the better part of a year.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed on April 8, that a secluded stretch of Ashe County blacktop will become the state’s 60th Scenic Byway. That news follows an April 7, meeting of the N.C. Board of Transportation.
The 18-mile route, dubbed the Big Horse Creek Scenic Byway, will begin at the N.C. 88/N.C. 194 intersection in Warrensville and take travelers through Lansing on to South Big Horse Creek Road, to Ripshin Road, to Whenlin Ridge road, to Farmers Store Road, to the Virginia state line. It’s a winding route that will offer travelers great views of the North Fork of the New River, Big Horse Creek and picturesque tree farms. Remnants of the Virginia-Carolina Railway can also be seen from much of the route, and runs close to a number of local landmarks like Pond Mountain and the Cherokee National Forest.
Lansing leaders began the push for the scenic byway designation last April, while other local governments like West Jefferson and Ashe County, gave the project their seal of approval. As part of the new designation, the route will be marked by official N.C. Department of Transportation Scenic Byway signs and included in NCDOT’s nationally distributed Scenic Byways Guide, according to a release issued by NCDOT.
That state has some 2,300 miles of scenic byways, three of which are designated as National Scenic Byways.
“These routes are carefully selected to embody the state’s diverse beauty and culture and provide travelers with a safe and interesting alternate route,” according to the release.
The byway is just the latest in a series of moves that could pay off in a big way for tiny Lansing. In September, Lansing broke ground on its $1.2 million Creeper Trail Park, the largest community development project the town of 160 people had seen in nearly three-quarters of a century. In October, the North Carolina Rural Center was one of just eight small towns selected to take part in the state’s STEP to Small Business program, a two-and-a-half year long business development program.
Lansing Mayor Dylan Lightfoot has long championed the project and adds it to a growing list of protections the town can rely on as Lansing grows.
“It’s obviously a great route and it’ll help bring visitors through town,” Lightfoot said. “But it also means that we’ll be able to protect what we’re trying to do here. We’ve got the Creeper Trail Park right in the middle of town and now this scenic byway designation means you won’t see things like billboards pop up along the route. The idea is to get these things in place early on, so even as town grows you’ve got this greenspace reserved right in the middle. You can develop the ridges all around but you’re going to have this big wide scenic space right in the middle of all this and now, we can add the byway to list.”
Not a backdoor to liquor
The one thing the scenic byway designation won’t do is open up the sale of liquor in Lansing.
“We’ve heard that repeatedly, that we pushed for this byway designation because it would allow businesses to sell liquor along the route,” Lightfoot said. “Which absolutely isn’t true.”
State statutes allow certain businesses near national scenic parkways to sell alcohol in some instances. That includes mixed drinks of the sort that can usually only be sold in North Carolina in cities or towns that hold a vote on the matter.
And the state does offer exceptions to liquor laws that allow some tourism impacted businesses like hotels or restaurants to sell alcohol in otherwise “dry” communities.
But Agnes Stevens, public affairs director for the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, said last year those wouldn’t apply to Lansing.
The town meets one requirement. Lansing is located in a county where one town, West Jefferson, allows the sale of malt beverages or unfortified wine.
But it fails the second requirement – that eligible businesses be located within “1.5 miles of the end or an entrance or exit ramp of a junction on a national scenic parkway.”
That’s a provision other local businesses – notably Park Vista Restaurant which sits just off the federally-controlled Blue Ridge Parkway near Fleetwood – have taken advantage of to sell alcohol.
Since the recently approved byway that will run through town is a state – not a national byway – the liquor loophole doesn’t apply.
“Bottom line this is going to be good from a tourist standpoint,” Lightfoot said.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.