Scenic Lincoln Highway offers view of fall's burst of color

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Looking for a scenic drive this weekend to take in fall's brilliant burst of color?

Organizers of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor hope you'll think of Route 30 between Ligonier and Breezewood as one of the top scenic highways in the region. They are working with 20 municipalities along the 70-mile drive to try to preserve and promote the roadway as a tourist destination by limiting billboards.

"People travel 70 mph along an interstate and don't really get to take in the scenery," Kristin Poerschke said. "But they remember going on Sunday drives with their families, and we'd like to get back to that."

Ms. Poerschke works for the Lincoln Highway association based near Latrobe and is also coordinator of the state's Scenic Byways project along the 70 miles of Route 30.

"There are fewer than half a dozen stop lights between Ligonier and Bedford," she said, "so motorists can have a fairly uninterrupted ride." The Laurel Mountain ridges provide a stunning backdrop, as well, she noted.

The Lincoln Highway corridor goes off the main Route 30 through some towns, such as along Main Street in Ligonier, which is the old Route 30. But for the most part, the corridor follows the two-lane Route 30 going east, through Jennerstown, Stoystown, Bedford and Everett.

Ms. Poershcke presented a proposed Scenic Bypass Ordinance to Ligonier Council last week. The ordinance would prohibit future billboards that could block the view of the natural beauty of the pastures, hillsides and forests.

"The Scenic Bypass Ordinance limits advertising off a business' premises," Ms. Poerschke said. "So it would prohibit billboards that advertise a McDonalds coming up in three miles, for example. But all current businesses and advertising would be grandfathered in, and wouldn't be covered under the ordinance."

Ms. Poerschke has already presented the ordinance to 18 of the 20 municipalities over the last year.

Ligonier councilman Jim McDonnell said that last week was the first time borough council had seen the ordinance, and that officials would take their time to consider it. He said, however, that there are no current billboards in the borough along old Route 30.

Ligonier Township Supervisor Keith Whipkey said his community has not been approached yet about the byways ordinance, but that the township doesn't have many billboards along Route 30. Most of them are in PennDOT's right of way and are regulated by PennDOT already, he said.

The byways ordinance governs signs that are within 550 feet of that PennDOT right of way, or about the distance that a motorist can read a sign from the roadway.

"It will be a program administered by PennDOT," Ms. Poerschke said.

She said two of the 20 municipalities -- Unity Township and Schellsburg, near Bedford -- approved the ordinance about five years ago, when PennDOT first began pushing the scenic ordinance.

The state has designated 12 scenic byways in the state that it promotes through PennDOT. Ms. Poerschke said Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska have designated their entire states as scenic byways.

"Our mission is economic development through tourism," Ms. Poerschke said. "Every dollar spent on heritage tourism advertising results in $174 in tourism spending."

The corridor association is partly funded through the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Route 30 scenic byways effort also aims to take advantage of the increased number of Americans stopping to see the new Flight 93 Memorial near Somerset, a tribute to the 40 people who lost their lives when their plane crashed near Somerset on Sept. 11, 2001.

"This year, about 400,000 were expected to visit that site," she said. "It is now easier to get to from Route 30, the new memorial entrance is just off Route 30."

Highway centennial coming

The historic Lincoln Highway will be 100 years old next year, and the national Lincoln Highway Association is planning a big celebration.

Ms. Poerschke said it was the first coast-to-coast, named highway in the country when it was begun in 1913. It is older than Route 66, made famous by a TV show of that name.

Mass production of the automobile by Henry Ford was relatively new and enabled more families to buy a car. The auto and tire industry in Detroit set about to promote travel, and the Lincoln Highway was named.

The Lincoln Highway runs 3,389 miles from New York City to San Francisco, and the roadway was completed in 1925.

"There is a group from Norway coming here to travel it," said Ms. Poerschke, adding that one of those involved in the initial Lincoln Highway was an immigrant from Norway.

"Some people will begin driving the highway from New York City while others will begin in San Francisco. They plan to meet in Nebraska for the celebration on June 30, 2013."

The local Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor recently opened a museum and office along Route 30 east of Latrobe. Last November, it bought the Johnston House, a 200-year-old stone house. The museum has old gas pumps and some post cards of the historic highway.

But it also is building a shelter to move a 1938 restored diner to the site, as well. The museum has a gift shop, library and archives and room for monthly talks.

And, of course, many people love the "roadside kitsch" that was built along Route 30 to service drivers of the 1920s through the 1950s, before fast food restaurants.

Many of the gas stations, hotels and lunch counters used an art deco style or fanciful designs to attract drivers to pull in for a Coke or ice cream cone on their trip.

There was the old ship hotel between Stoystown and Bedford, which burned down in 2001. And the Bedford Coffee Pot, which was a small food establishment. That historic building was recently moved and restored.

Dunkle's Gulf Station, with its distinctive tan tile building, is still functioning in Bedford. Other attractions along Route 30 included Idlewild Park, where many people took the train from Pittsburgh to enjoy Story Book Forest and picnics, along with Ligonier Beach, a swimming pool complex where Dean Martin often performed.

The historic Bedford Springs hotel also has been restored into a luxury hotel and spa resort.

Details: lhhc.org or 724-879-4241.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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