Travelers are encouraged to take the scenic route and view the beauty that is along State Road 135. ABIGAIL YOUMANS | THE DEMOCRAT
Travelers are encouraged to take the scenic route and view the beauty that is along State Road 135. ABIGAIL YOUMANS | THE DEMOCRAT
LOCALS already know State Road 135 as a scenic alternative to interstate travel between Indianapolis and the Brownstown area. Organizers of the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway project are hoping that more people will discover it and make that choice.

Efforts to have the byway designated by the Indiana Department of Transportation started five years ago, with the leadership of elected officials and community organizations in Brown, Hendricks, Jackson and Morgan counties.

Leaders in Brown and Morgan counties recognized the significance of State Road 135 North after the Morgantown bridge was closed for two months in early 2016, said Diana Biddle, a Brown County commissioner and the county historian. They began working with leaders in Hendricks and Jackson counties as well, as they’re also on the scenic road.

The Indiana Byway Program began in 1997 and is “designed to preserve, protect, enhance and recognize transportation corridors of unique character,” the Indiana Department of Transportation says.

There are 11 byways in the state already.

Hoosier Hills is the only scenic byway connecting two federal byways.

The Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway will be added to INDOT’s state map with others.

The purpose of designating this stretch of 135 as the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway is to engage travelers in the beauty, culture, activity and history that southcentral Indiana offers.

Running 83.1 miles total, from Belleville in Hendricks County at US-40, to US-50 in Jackson County, Brown County shares 23.7 miles of the road.

Brown County’s portion of the byway begins at mile 40.7. Continuing through Fruitdale, Bean Blossom and Nashville, the byway follows State Road 135 as it pairs with State Road 46 East toward Columbus, then continues onto State Road 135 South through Stone Head and Story, then into Jackson County.

A portion of State Road 135 North between Bean Blossom and Nashville was already a “scenic parkway,” designated as early as the 1930s. Certain land on either side of the highway that was owned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources was under protections to preserve its scenic qualities. Cutting trees or making manmade improvements within 300 feet of the center line is prohibited.

A resolution supporting the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway was passed in November 2017 by the Brown County Commissioners, after a meeting took place in 2016 among county leaders who wanted to find ways to boost economic development and capitalize on the existing tourism base.

One of the purposes of the byway is to share more places of interest along the route travelers may use as they’re coming and going from established tourism bases in Brown County, like the state park, Hoosier National Forest and downtown Nashville. Places like Morgantown, Fruitdale, Bean Blossom, Freetown, Stone Head and Story will be areas that can benefit from the new byway designation.

Drivers can experience a “leisurely drive,” the application says, over the span of a day or even a weekend, should travelers choose to make arrangements to stay and visit.

The aim of the scenic byway, however, is to not just keep drivers and passengers in their vehicles, but to explore the places as they pass by. Activities will be promoted along the way, such as festivals, farmers markets, fairs and other locally significant events.

“Included with these can be regionally-planned activities specific to the byway,” the application says. “Driving tours, byway-wide yard sales, bike tours, artisan shows and other planned activities can provide purpose for day and weekend travel of the road.”

One driving tour in Brown County is already in the works.

“It’s embryonic,” said Peaceful Valley Heritage and Preservation member Jim Schultz,about the plans going forward and working with the state to market the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway. “We’re still figuring it out with them — it’s new to them and new to us,” he said.

Peaceful Valley Heritage, a local volunteer group, has its own tours Schultz said, called Sunday Afternoon Drives, which PVH is already starting to link with the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway. These routes and tours can be found on the group’s website.

Schultz said his next task is to contact local entities and encourage them to put together a group to add their own components, like restaurants.

With restaurants being a reason for travel, Schultz said that PVH is hoping to work with local eateries to be featured on the afternoon drive tours and scenic byway. Signage will point out local landmarks, cemeteries and stops that they believe travelers should see.

“This is something that can add value to our economy,” Schultz said. It will also allow the county to do better what Schultz said it already does well: allowing people to roam, visit, eat, shop and enjoy outdoor recreation.

“History is the record of our lives,” he said. “Bringing this through Brown County adds value to Brown County, because it feeds into what we already do well: the quality of life and quality of place. ... It adds to that part of the human existence.”
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