Cherokee Nation receives scenic byway designation

Tahlequah, Oklahoma (ICC) 10-08

 Oklahoma State Highway 10 presents visitors with unique rock formations as it twists and winds past favorite northeastern Oklahoma tourism venues such as the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller.
A stretch of highway that runs through Sequoyah, Cherokee, Adair and Delaware counties has been designated by the state of Oklahoma as the Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway. The designation means the availability of federal funding, grants and increased tourism for many northeastern Oklahoma communities.

“Our structures are the oldest west of the Mississippi, and our government predates the State of Oklahoma. Our history is truly expansive,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. “As visitors travel along this scenic byway I am sure that the scenery will make them pause and reflect at the beauty and history of the Cherokee Nation and our people. I encourage visitors to stop along the way to visit our communities and our historic sites.”

The designation was made possible thanks to a partnership between the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the University of Oklahoma (OU). The Oklahoma Byways Programs works with local communities to establish, recognize and preserve selected roads based on archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic traits.

The newly established byway is an 88-mile route that takes travelers on a drive through roads that offer travelers a glimpse of the beauty that Oklahoma presents along every twist and turn, providing spectacular views of Lake Tenkiller and the Illinois River. The byway passes through several picturesque areas located on U.S. Highways 59 and 412A and State Highways 10, 51, 62, 82 and 100. Towns located on the byway include Gore, Cookson, Keys, Tahlequah and West Siloam Springs.

According to Richard Andrews, Oklahoma Byways Program Coordinator and ODOT Project Management Division Assistant Manager, the Byways Program is a unique opportunity to work with communities across the state to tell their stories about treasured places and roads that are important to them.

“The Cherokee Hills Byway contains several intrinsic qualities. It is scenic, recreational and the culture that the Cherokee Nation represents is a huge contributing factor to the byways designation,” said Andrews. “Visitors will be amazed at what this byway has to offer.”

Promoting economic and community development, federal grant monies will be available to communities along the route for marketing, concrete and steel construction and for other amenities that will enhance the byway.

“Communities along the byways have the opportunity to apply for federal grants from the National Byways Program and are eligible for partnerships with OU,” said Andrews. “There is no set dollar amount that can be applied for and grants are available in all funding levels. However, grant monies have to be matched by 20 percent of the requested funds.”

Oklahoma has seven other routes identified as Scenic Byways, which include the Osage Nation Heritage Trail, Route 66, Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway, Talimena Drive, Mountain Pass Scenic Byway, Mountain Gateway Scenic Byway and Cimarron Heritage Trail Byway.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of eastern Oklahoma with the addition of the Cherokee Hills Byway,” said Pamela Hockett-Lewis, OU Byways Outreach Coordinator. “We are so excited to get to work with all the communities that comprise our newest byway. Our motto is community driven and community led. What this means is that we get in the trench and begin working with communities to identify and convey to travelers what is special about their corner of the world.”       

The Cherokee Nation will help to manage the byway and act as a liaison between communities. The tribe will work closely with ODOT and OU to diversify and broaden local economies by helping to implement tourism and marketing plans.

Donna Tinnin, Tourism Development and Planning Specialist for the Cherokee Nation, says she believes the byway will help promote tourism within the area by giving travelers access to cultural experiences along sites and communities encompassed by the route. In addition, Cherokee Nation’s Cultural Tourism Department will provide bus tours early next summer to several of these Cherokee communities, which will help facilitate the goals of Cherokee tourism.

“The Cherokee Nation is proud to be a partner of the Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway,” said Smith. “This road becomes a thread that ties together many stories of the Cherokee Nation, from the Trail of Tears, to the Civil War, to Allotment, to helping establish Oklahoma as a great state.”