Weekly Feature

2018-10-11 / Front Page

WNY Southtowns Scenic Byway marks 10 years


It took about five years to gather information, signatures and support for the Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway to be approved. This year, the Byway, which runs over 100 miles through Erie and Cattaraugus counties, is celebrating 10 years.

More than a dozen scenic byways are in New York state alone. Around 2003, Bob Lennartz noticed no byway highlighted the western part of the state.

“People know Western New York. When you talk tourism, people say the state promotes Niagara Falls, big shopping areas and restaurants,” Lennartz said. “We wanted to show people there are things to do in the Southtowns.”

Lennartz said the byway committee hired staff from the School of Architecture and Planning from the University at Buffalo as consultants.

“You cannot just snap your fingers. You have to lay out a full plan, a marketing plan, and convince the state why they should add it to the Byway System,” he said. “It’s a pretty rigorous process.”

The committee had to seek approval and signatures from town and village officials if the planned route ran through the area.

He added that the committee was able to get the state to agree on a solid route, and then the committee presented in Albany in 2008. Shortly after the presentation, Lennartz said he was told the byway was adopted.

“Once we got the Department of Transportation on board, it was easy to get the state’s approval,” he said.

Lennartz then became president of the Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

The byway at the time ran 71 miles in Erie County. It began in Orchard Park and Aurora south through Boston, Colden and Concord. The Southtowns Byway board, alongside Lennartz, had to go through the process of state approval all over again to add an extension to the route.

In 2015, the route expanded 37 miles into Cattaraugus County, through the towns of Ashford and Ellicottville, terminating south of the Village of Ellicottville.

State Sen. Catherine Young said the extension would provide a way to expose the community’s businesses and culture to state residents and visitors, according to a press release from the time.

“Cattaraugus County has a myriad of natural resources, historical locations and recreational opportunities that are a draw for tourists,” Young said. “The byway’s expansion will also inject a boost into the region’s economy as shops and restaurants along the route see an uptick in visitors.”

The expanded byway now incorporates portions of U.S. Route 219, State Route 240, and State Route 242 within the towns of Ashford and Ellicottville, and the Village of Ellicottville, according to the press release.

“It was really a good match for the existing byway we had,” Lennartz said. “A few of us just sat down and worked up what we had to do for an extension, and it was a process.”

The Southtowns Byway board has plans for the future, Lennartz said. Some of these plans include installing the last of 16 interpretive signs at stops on the byway and installing signs in Cattaraugus County.

Lennartz said the organization recently received a grant from Erie County for marketing purposes and sign installation, but he believes businesses involved with the byway need to be supportive in the future, as well.

“The more people talk and get to know each other, I think is a good thing,” Lennartz said. “I think it really brought people together throughout the region.”

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