Scenic America names Scenic Highway 30A a National Scenic Byway

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Scenic Highway 30A was already recognized by the state as a scenic highway 15 years ago. Now it’s recognized nationwide, too.

The scenic byway was one of 34 added to National Scenic Byways and 15 All-American Roads revealed by Scenic America in a press release Feb. 16. Established in 1991, the National Scenic Byways Program recognizes roads with notable scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational and archaeological qualities, according to the press release.

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The newly added roads were the first additions to the program since 2009.

Tonia Nation, chairman of the board of The Friends of Scenic 30A, said getting the call last Tuesday morning was “very exciting.”

Scenic Highway 30A in Walton County winds though various wooded areas and coastal dune lakes. The road has been designated a National Scenic Byway.

“It’s a great honor for our area,” Nation said. “Us locals, we know it, We love it. It’s a beautiful area. Everyone has worked hard to protect the byway. To be recognized nationally is very exciting because it shows on a federal level now that they are acknowledging the intrinsic resources this area has to offer.”

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The Friends of Scenic 30A has worked toward the national designation since the group was established 15 years ago. A nonprofit organization must be established to receive state designation as a scenic byway.

The Friends of Scenic 30A started the lengthy application for national recognition with the help of the 30A Foundation in December 2019. The Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byway department and Scenic Walton helped.

A woman bikes on one Seaside's back streets off Scenic Highway 30A. The road that winds through South Walton County has been designated National Scenic Byway.

“(Scenic Walton) provided a lot of the photos to document why our scenic byway is pristine and should be part of this program,” Nation said.

The application was submitted for initial review in March 2020 and final review in May 2020.

“Right as the country was coming to a screeching halt with COVID, the application process was still in full swing,” Nation said. “We just kept the momentum going and got that application in. It was a big question mark whether we would get this because we didn’t know how the impact of COVID and how the government shutting down would affect the process.”

The application requires photo documentation, historical information and future plans for the area, as well as identifying what intrinsic resources that make the road unique. Scenic Highway 30A has many natural resources, Nation said.

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“We have the coastal dune lakes,” Nation said. “We have Grayton Beach State Park, Deer Lake State Park, Point Washington. We have all these beautiful state parks. As a community, we’ve really pulled together to really try to develop the area responsibly. Part of that is preserving that byway and the beautification of the byway.”

Scenic Highway 30A stretches along the Gulf of Mexico though towns such as Seaside. The road has been designated a National Scenic Byway.

The national designation is a step toward improving the highway’s future.

“Our small community, we sometimes have a hard time competing against these larger scenic byways, say in Pensacola or South Florida,” Nation said. “By getting this national designation, it allows for us to compete for a bigger pot of dollars to help fund some of these preservation and beautification projects we have on our docket.”

Friends of Scenic 30A will continue to work with Walton County, Nation said.

“We recently completed a signage project where we identified nonconforming signs and worked with the county to come up with the plan to make the signage along 30A more conforming,” Nation said. “Up until now, the state pool of dollars has been so small or nonexistent, so we really haven’t been able to fund a lot of our projects.”

Nation thinks that will change. And they have plenty of goals.

“We’ve been wanting to connect the eastern and western ends of 30A up to (U.S. Highway) 98 to provide better multi-use path connectivity,” Nation said. “We have a pet project we’ve been working on called Friends Corner. It’s at the corner of Eastern Lake Road and 30A. It’s going to have a gazebo with informational materials about the byway, about some of the intrinsic resources."

Rental properties are seen along Walton County Road 30A in Dune Allen Beach on Friday.

Nation, a five-year member of Friends of Scenic 30A, is passionate about preserving and improving the road. She grew up in Destin and drove along Scenic Highway 30A to visit the beaches of South Walton.

Traffic moves along Scenic Highway 30A near Eastern Lake in South Walton County.

“When it came to deciding where we wanted to raise our family, my husband and I said, ‘Absolutely, Walton County,’ ” Nation said. “I always wanted to live here and I’m so glad and fortunate to be able to do what I love and live where I want to live.”

Nation wants to protect and promote responsible growth, she added.

“Once you have this area in your heart and you experience the beauty of being able to kayak the coastal dune lakes and hear the seagulls chirping in the background and the waves crashing on the beach, you want to be able to promote that for future generations.”