Important legislation is being considered in the U.S. Senate right now. It’s important enough to have a special edition of The Big Five, with this call to action, featuring the President of Scenic America, Mark Falzone.
Tell readers a bit about yourself and professional background.
I came on board at Scenic America in 2017 as President. I had a background in nonprofit management and legislative experience from my long tenure as a Massachusetts state legislator. My passions have always centered around environmental policy and economic development—and that’s exactly where Scenic America works.
How and why did you come to be involved with Scenic America, and what is the mission?
When I was a teenager, I got involved with an environmental organization focused on scenic beauty issues, and now I am fortunate to bring my career full circle with my current role at Scenic America. Our mission is to preserve and enhance the visual character and scenic beauty of America. We want to create a safer and more scenic America for all people and communities. We believe that all people have the right to live, work, and play in beautiful places.
The issues we fight for are important across the country, and certainly in Florida, where we are fortunate to have a strong network of partners. Under the leadership of Bill Jonson, Scenic Florida has been a driving force in mitigating billboards in Clearwater and elsewhere. In Walton County, Leigh Moore (Scenic America Vice-Chair, Scenic Florida Vice President, and Scenic Walton Executive Director) is a critical player on our utility undergrounding initiatives, further supported by our Scenic Jacksonville affiliate.
Instrumental in restarting the National Scenic Byway Program and call for designations, what was it like to see so many communities across America apply for designation in the opening round?
It was extremely rewarding and gratifying. The program had been dormant for so long—no new designations in more than a decade, and nine years without dedicated funding. A scenic byways designation didn’t mean much anymore, aside from maybe a nice sign on the roadway. Byways’ real economic benefits as drivers of job creation and tourism promotion had fallen away. To see the program come back, and at such a critical time when communities are struggling to build back after COVID, is incredible. Many of us have spent more time at home than ever during the past several months, and to see communities embrace what’s special and scenic about their roadways, and come together for national recognition, is just terrific.
You’ve worked diligently with local byway organizations and the National Scenic Byway Foundation to help secure funding in the transportation package before Congress now. Why is the inclusion of funding so important?
If the program doesn’t have dedicated funding, it can’t deliver on its benefits. Byways have the opportunities to apply for grants to help with initiatives that create jobs and drive tourism—things like signage, enhanced interpretation, visitor amenities, marketing, etc. If there aren’t funds available, these grants can’t be awarded. The House’s version of the bill included moderate amount of funding, which is great, but much of it would be subject to appropriations. The Senate version of the bill doesn’t include any funding. However, Padilla/Cornyn/Van Hollen Amendment 2315 is on the table right now. It would provide a healthy stream of dedicated funding for byways from the Highway Trust Fund, which is not subject to appropriation. This is what we’re fighting for now, and we urge any Floridians who wants to take action on this to contact Sens. Rubio and Scott via our online petition: www.scenic.org/flsenatebyways.
What do you see as the future for byway communities across America over the next five years if funding is included?
Since the announcement of new All-American Road and National Scenic Byways designations, we’ve seen tremendous demand from travelers who want to explore the country in safe and scenic ways. If communities along byways routes are able to capitalize on that interest and tap into funding opportunities, we can drive tourism and inspire more community pride and engagement—much as we have seen in Florida around A1A ‘s new All-American Roads designation.
*We ask you to please take a moment to contact your state’s U.S. Senators to support funding for the National Scenic Byway Program as a co-sponsor of the Padilla/Cornyn/Van Hollen Amendment 2315, on the table right now.
Why does this matter? Locally, it affects Flagler County’s TWO National Scenic Byways – the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway (All-American Road), and the Heritage Crossroads: Miles of History (National Scenic Byway) and opens the door to apply for project grants that will benefit Flagler County resident and visitors.