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Scenic byway makes for unique adventure

Photo Provided The Fort Steuben Visitor Center was designed and constructed for travelers on the Ohio River Scenic Byway with funds from the Federal Highway Administration.

STEUBENVILLE — The Ohio Department of Transportation and Tourism Ohio figure a leisurely drive on one of the Buckeye State’s 27 scenic byways could be the perfect getaway for Ohioans anxious for a change of scenery.

May is “Drive Ohio Byways Month,” and Judy Bratten, assistant director of Historic Fort Steuben and the Visitor Center, points out Steubenville is situated along the longest byway in Ohio.

“Route 7 is part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway, a road that continues along the river from East Liverpool to Cincinnati and then on through Indiana and Illinois,” Bratten said. “The award-winning visitor center here was designed and constructed for travelers on the byway with funds from the Federal Highway Administration. The center has maps and brochures about sites along the byway to make the trip as interesting as possible.”

Bratten said each road or series of roads designated as an official scenic byway must meet various criteria: There must be significant natural, historical, archaeological, cultural, scenic and recreational qualities that should be accessible, preserved and enhanced. Each byway has an organization that is charged with maintaining, managing and marketing the byway, ensuring that it retains its unique qualities, she adds. Scenic byway organizations limit billboards and signage, work with local officials in development, ensure the accuracy of maps and signage and try to keep the public informed and engaged.

The Ohio River Scenic Byway is managed by Ohio River Trails, headquartered at the Steubenville Visitor Center.

“People in the area may see the Ohio River Scenic Byway signs as they drive down Route 7, but they may not realize all the planning and work that goes into qualifying a road as a state or national scenic byway,” Bratten added. “Of course, nature will have her way as we have seen with the many rock slides along the route or the trees and brush that often block views of the river. And major interruptions can occur such as when the new bridge spanning the river from Wellsburg to Brilliant is being installed. Our byway committee is tasked with keeping track of these changes and (working) with the responsible entities to correct or adjust for them.”

Bratten said the Ohio River Scenic Byway travels through industrial areas, farmland, the Wayne National Forest, small towns with quaint village squares and historic cities such as Steubenville, Marietta, and Cincinnati.

“With 452 miles of incredible scenery and cultural attractions as well as spectacular views of the Ohio River, you can easily make a three or four day mini-vacation on the Ohio River Scenic Byway,” Bratten said. “In many ways, traveling the Ohio River Scenic Byway is like exploring historic America, from its industrial cities to its charming river towns via the paths of pioneers and presidents. Not only does the byway follow the trails of explorers, adventurers, patriots and abolitionists, it passes through the birthplaces of three U.S. presidents, prehistoric Indian sites, and ancient earthworks as well as the beautiful Wayne National Forest. Families could include a trip along the byway as an educational experience as well as a fun vacation.”

Seven Ohio Scenic Byways spring off the Ohio River Scenic Byway, allowing drivers to explore other roads and areas with distinct characteristics. The Ohio Department of Transportation has maps, information, and links to each of the byways that crisscross the state.

Historic Fort Steuben President Jerry Barilla said there’s been an increase in byways travelers since Steubenville was designated a Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail community.

“There’s great interest in following the Lewis and Clark journey,” he said, adding the byway “is an integral part of this historic part of our early history.”

Bratten points out the byway has its own website and Facebook page “which we encourage people to check out, add photos and comments, and then get involved in helping us,” Bratten said. “As we begin traveling and exploring again this May and looking for safe outdoor destinations, it’s a good time to discover this byway that is close to home.”

For information, go to www.ohioriverscenicbyway.org or contact the Steubenville Visitor Center, 120 S. Third Street.

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