The Federal Highway Administration has named five scenic byway routes in Tennessee, including one in the nearby Sequatchie Valley, to its America's Byways list.
"This has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to the Sequatchie Valley," Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce executive director Janis Adams Kyser said Thursday. "It gives national attention to what we've known is the most beautiful valley in the United States."
Region tourism officials were joyous.
"We are so excited that the Sequatchie Valley has been designated as a national Scenic Byway," Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association tourism coordinator Jenni Veal said Thursday.
"The Southeast Tennessee Development District and county governments in the valley started this process several years ago and are encouraged about the potential for economic growth through tourism in Marion, Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties that the byway will provide," she said.
Dunlap Sequatchie County MapView
The designations bring the number of byways in 48 states to 184.
Veal noted tourism is Tennessee's second-largest industry and the byway designation puts the area on a national stage. The Sequatchie Valley's primary counties included in the byway are Bledsoe, Marion and Sequatchie, she said.
"The communities in the valley have been working hard for the past few years to develop outdoor recreation and tourism projects in their towns — this byway is another tool to help support their efforts," Veal said.
She said the byway program also offers more resources to enhance infrastructure in scenic communities, "so we are looking forward to those opportunities, as well."
In Tennessee, the other four byways added are the Newfound Gap Road Byway, Great River Road National Scenic Byway, Cumberland Historic Byway and Norris Freeway. Tennessee had the only byways added to the list this year in the tri-state area.
Federal officials announced the 49 new designations across the U.S. to the America's Byways collection on Tuesday. The new designations include 15 All-American Roads and 34 National Scenic Byways in 28 states.
"Through their many unique qualities, each of these new additions to the National Scenic Byways program helps America's roads tell our national story," highway administration executive director Tom Everett said in a statement on the listing. "These special routes offer travelers exciting new opportunities to explore the nation, from coast to coast or close to home."
The Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway mostly traces State Route 28 and U.S. Highway 127 and is about 80 miles long. It also includes Scenic Sideways consisting of scenic loops and spur routes people can take off the main path to see the important historic, cultural and natural sites that make the valley unique, according to officials. The valley itself is bracketed by Walden's Ridge to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west, creating equally dramatic views from the surrounding bluffs and the valley floor.
The Sequatchie Valley, often mistakenly called a "rift valley," is about 65 miles long and an average of 6 miles wide, and is actually an "anticline," the opposite of a rift valley. The valley, according to geologists, was created by overlying sandstone that cracked and was eroded away by what would eventually become the Sequatchie River, according to byway documents.
The river itself emerges from caves — already a river — at the northern end of the valley at a place called "Head of Sequatchie" in Devilstep Hollow. The river flows into the Tennessee River at the southern end of the valley near Jasper in Marion County.
National exposure of the valley's rare beauty has been "a long time coming," Kyser said. "There have been people working on this since 2012."
Marion County Mayor David Jackson and county Chamber of Commerce president Shelby Potterfield echoed the value of national attention, and said he hopes to see the byway generate tourism dollars for the valley's economy.
"We're excited about it. It's going to give us national recognition and draw more tourists to the Sequatchie Valley," he said Thursday. "It's going to allow other people throughout our nation to see how beautiful our part of the country is."
Marion County Map and Kiosk Art draftView
Potterfield said officials are "excited to have this opportunity to share our unique, scenic land with travelers and to see this designation have a positive impact on our growing tourism industry and local economy."
Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley also applauded the federal nod and credited former County Mayor Bobbie Collier's administration for work related to a state application early in the project.
Bledsoe Pikeville MapView
"I'm happy to see the designation for Bledsoe County," Ridley said.