Northwoods Business Leaders Looking at Highway 55 To Become a ‘Scenic Byway’

If a group of northwoods business leaders have their way, Highway 55 in eastern Langlade County may soon become known as a “scenic byway”

The Forest County Economic Development Partnership is taking the lead in the initiative, which would extend the byway designation from the Highways 55-64 intersection at Langlade north to the state line.

“This is a huge undertaking and we are thrilled that the Forest County has taken the lead,” Chris Berry of the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation said. “We are now at the point where we can start pulling Langlade County into the mix and begin conversations with communities on the byway.”

Representatives recently traveled to Madison for a hearing before the state Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byways panel, which unanimously supported development and implementation of a corridor management plan spearheaded by the Forest County organization.

It is a lengthy process, Berry explained, with only five in the state.

“There has already been a lot of background work done on the section that is being considered,” she said. “One is a mile-by-mile assessment, including pictures and a rating of the beauty of the segment.”

If successful, the designation would provide assistance with promotion and improvement projects, not just along the route, but within the entire “corridor.”

“This is a great opportunity for two counties that work well together to partner to promote the beauty of the Highway 55 corridor,” Berry said.

According to Jim Schuessler, executive director of the Forest County Economic Development Partnership, many people have pulled together to bring this proposal to this point.

“This is a non-restrictive designation,” Schuessler said, “so it opens many opportunities without putting burdens on local highway departments and residents along the route.”

UW Extension’s Steve Nelson provided support for this proposal. He has had previous experience in working with communities in developing scenic byways in Michigan including the Historic Iron Heritage Trail in the Upper Peninsula.

“The designation of a scenic byway is designed to identify, inventory, protect, enhance and promote the highway and adjacent land with distinctive and unique scenic, cultural or historic qualities, all of which are encompassed in the Wolf River Heritage Corridor,” Nelson said. “This is a great opportunity for Forest County to show off the attributes that make it a great place to live and do business.”

The section to be designated, along with a short piece that is already listed through a Federal program, creates a 114-mile loop through some of the most ecologically-diverse and historically-significant country in Northeastern Wisconsin. As proposed, it originates in both the towns of Langlade in the south and Nelma in the north.

“The fact we have the National Forest and all of the natural beauty and activities it provides, coupled with the history of the Military Road and the opening of this whole quarter of the state, gives travelers all the more reason to experience the byway,” R.T. Krueger, president of the Forest County organization, said. “It draws from multiple portals of interest for low-impact tourism.”

The route bisects the Sokaogon Chippewa community and provides the tribe with an enhanced ability to share certain aspects of its rich American Indian cultural history to visitors.  

In addition, travelers can experience a closer look into history and its connection along the historic Military Route by visiting the now fully restored 1870s Dinesen House log cabin listed on the National Register of Historic Properties.  

Travelers will also be able to experience the hospitality at local festivals held throughout the year and experience Native American Cultural events. Visitors will also be made aware of other county amenities such as the Cultural Center, Museum and Library at the Forest County Potawatomi Community, Lumberjack Steam Train in Laona, and Kovac Planetarium west of Crandon.

“America’s Byways draw visitors seeking genuine experiences into communities where they support small business owners by shopping in locally owned stores, dining in restaurants, and lodging in local establishments,” Melinda Otto, executive director of the Forest County Chamber of Commerce, said. “Byways spur local and regional economic growth, and when the Wolf River-Nicolet Byway is operational it will offer tremendous impact to our membership.”

The next step in the process is development and implementation of a corridor management plan.

Highway 55 from the Highway 64 intersection at Langlade north to the Michigan border is being proposed as a scenic byway, a designation that could spur tourism in the region