In the very near future the Kansas Byway Program will grow from 11 to 12 byways. The most recent addition will be the Land and Sky Scenic Byway that crosses Sherman County. The newest byway follows Highway 27 for 88 miles. The northern point is the Kansas/Nebraska state line. The southernmost point is the intersection of Highway 40 and Highway 27 in Sharon Springs.
The Corridor Management Plan has been sent into the State of Kansas. Soon the Kansas Byway Committee will be meeting to determine what and if any changes need to be made to the plan. After they approve the plan, the byway will be officially designated. The first signs will begin to be installed along the byway. Signs are to be located approximately every 10 miles along the byway.
The byway corridor crosses a vast area of many changing landscapes. The byway highlights sites such as the Arikaree Breaks, The Wallace Branch of the Great Western Cattle Trail, Mt. Sunflower, along with thousands of acres of rotating crops, livestock and wildlife. The Breaks in Cheyenne County, Smoky Gardens in Sherman County, the pastures and badlands of northern Wallace County all have a unique story with a common thread.
Northwest Kansas is unique and Land and Sky is the only byway that is entirely in the northwest region. It will be the second byway that runs north of Highway 36.
Scenic byways are an especially designated road that travels though exceptional natural or cultural beauty. Northwest Kansas has natural and cultural beauty with the wide array of land formations and agriculture in the area.
Byway to tell agriculture’s story
The Land and Sky Scenic Byway will be the only byway — either state or national — that focuses on agriculture and will tell our story. Agriculture is an unknown story to an increasingly urbanized nation.
The flying public sees center-pivot irrigation as giant key lime pies, but they have no understanding of what they are or why they are there. Travelers on Interstate 70 see vast green lawns in early spring, again not understanding that beautiful lawn will soon become waving wheat. Shoppers pull cartons of milk and shrink-wrapped steaks from the store refrigerator case without understanding the work of Kansas farmers and ranchers.
Finding an undiscovered treasure
The Kansas Travel and Tourism Division considers Land and Sky Scenic Byway to be an “undiscovered treasure.” Gov. Sam Brownback; Robin Jennison, Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism; and Linda Craghead, Assistant Secretary for Parks and Tourism; Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Byway personnel have all driven the byway this year. They were astonished and at times overwhelmed with the drive and its many different twists and turns. They all said they enjoyed and at times were awestruck with the drive and its beauty. Many had heard of The Breaks but had never driven through the great vastness.
The process of creating a scenic byway is a large undertaking done by a grassroots committee. The Land and Sky Scenic Byway core group includes county commissioners from each county and tourism and community development professionals in the three-county area.
Byway designation is predicted to increase travel
Travel to Sherman County alone has increased well over 30 percent this year. The state estimates that the byway will increase travel by an additional 17 percent. The estimated increase comes because of the addition of the scenic byway and the increased interest nationally and internationally of such routes.
The Kansas Travel and Tourism Division specifically markets Kansas Byways – and the communities and counties they run through. Byways have their own Kansas Tourism publication and their own social media accounts. The byways are located on the Kansas State Road Map and other transportation and marketing materials. Another added bonus is federal grants favor byway communities and roads.
Even with some transportation funding drying up, byways continue to prosper, exist and function with partnerships from local, state and federal governments. And their communities prosper with them.