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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Let's Designate the Valley Pike A "Virginia Historic Tourway"

Every year thousands of tourists enjoy meandering along nearby scenic routes like the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. For vacationers, it certainly beats dodging loaded semis on I-81.

But there’s another leisurely and beautiful drive we should be promoting, our own Highway 11, the legendary Valley Pike.

My wife and I frequently take this historic old highway up or down the Valley, and we never fail to be impressed by how peaceful it is compared to the stress of battling Interstate traffic. What a variety of inns, antique outlets, museums, historic sites, theaters and natural attractions it offers for folks wandering this part of the Commonwealth!

So what if we officially designated this venerable route the “Valley Pike Historic Tourway”?

There are already a number of “scenic byways” in  Virginia, and Route 11 deserves to be added to the list. But this highway offers far more than “scenic.” It is so rich in history, having started as a well traveled trail used by native Americans long before Columbus's time. Later, westbound wagon trains of settlers followed the Valley Road all the way through Cumberland Gap to Kentucky and beyond.

After 1834, this stage route became the Valley Pike, a much improved toll road serving the growing northwest part of the state ("pike" refers to the wooden pole that blocked the road until the toll was collected). Sadly, a few decades later, thousands of war weary troops marched here on their way to and from bloody battles for control of the “breadbasket of the Confederacy.”

If only highways could talk.

We could help give this one a voice by providing printed and audio guides giving travelers some direction for this kind of adventure, perhaps starting from historic Winchester, home to its great Old Town district and to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

From there visitors could travel  southward through old towns and historic villages like Middletown, Strasburg, Woodstock, Edinburg and Mt Jackson. Additional stops could be at nearby New Market and then of course Harrisonburg, designated a Virginia Main Street Community and home to a transportation museum highlighting the Valley Pike's story in the newly renovated Hardesty Higgens House.

And from here tourists could be pointed toward Mt. Crawford, Mt. Sidney and Fort Defiance and on to Staunton, the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and the site of the Frontier Culture Museum and the American Shakespeare Center, among other wonderful attractions.

There’s much more. Visiting tour bus groups, cyclists, families in mini-vans and campers, and retirees in RV’s, could continue on to Raphine, Lexington, and Natural Bridge (Route 11 goes right over it) then on to Roanoke, with its historic City Market, the Virginia Museum of Transportation (especially highlighting railroad memorabilia) and many other attractions.

Benefits of this promotion?

1) It could take at least a little pressure off congested I-81. Travelers who have to get to places in a hurry should, as far as I’m concerned, just learn to deal with the stress of this four-lane interstate. The rest of us can choose the serenity route.

2) We could increase the number of travel dollars coming into our area. Most tourists simply pay us a visit, add to the Valley’s economy, and return home.

3) This would be a great way to coordinate the efforts of area towns and cities to get the good word out that the Shenandoah Valley is a great place to visit.

It would be a plus to have our state legislators take up the cause of officially designating this Valley stretch of the highway as a "Virginia Historic Tourway" or some such name, but localities could simply move ahead, in cooperation with, say, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, in marketing this great kind of vacation opportunity without the need of special legislation.

What do you think?
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