Byways to benefit businesses/communities

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By Brenda Locklear

If  you’ve got a business on the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway, or if you’re interested in drawing tourism and tourism dollars to Sumter, listen up.
A ribbon-cutting event for the 62-mile byway through Sumter County, from south of Webster to Rutland, took place last weekend at the Dade Battlefield Historic Park.
With the formal designation of the byway in May of last year and its ribbon cutting recently, the focus turns to working with businesses on the byway route to draw tourism and tourism dollars.
The byway showcases the historical, natural, cultural and recreational aspects of Sumter County – from the Sumter County Farmer’s Market to fishing favorite Lake Panasoffkee. Starting south of Webster, the journey travels north, east and west.
The route moves from Webster to Beville’s Corner and St. Catherine, past the Florida National Cemetery, to downtown Bushnell, Sumterville, Lake Panasoffkee and Rutland.
The designation came as the result of work by local residents and organizations with an interest in building tourism and showcasing “the natural, scenic, recreational and heritage resources of Sumter County.”
That group forms the corridor management entity, with Dan McCormic as president and Dawn Cary as treasurer.
The hope from the state level is that the Sumter group will take a different approach than other byway groups, by looking for how they can help in the community.
“We’re actually going to be visiting all the businesses on the byway in the next few months,” Cary said, adding that they are not a regulatory organization, but rather an organization working to find out how they can help by partnering with those businesses.
“I want to see everybody thrive,” she said. She was already heavily involved in the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce when she joined the byway effort.
As for selecting the route, “We looked for heritage and scenic intrinsic areas,” as well as a route that would be easy to travel and not confusing.
The first portion of the project was a two-mile stretch in front of the VFW post on C.R. 476 B that was designated as the Veteran’s Memorial Highway.
The group has a couple of future projects that are already being considered. One is the beautification of the 309 exit of Intestate 75. The hope is to improve landscaping and appearance, possibly making that the official welcome entrance to the byway.
There’s also the possibility of a connection to a state greenway bicycle trail. Currently, the trail has 11-mile gap. Originally, the idea was to connect the trail through Richloam, but because of a lack of amenities, linking up through Center Hill or Webster is being considered, she said.
While the entire journey along the byway offers a scenic experience, other points of interest include the Florida National Cemetery, Dade Battlefield Historic Park, the and downtown Bushnell, along with the already mentioned farmer’s market and Lake Panasoffkee.
It was, “a long process, just to figure the route,” said Cary.
It took about four months with the guidance to two consultant groups, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
The corridor management group has 12 to 20 active members and the support of several different organizations or businesses. While their major projects have been funded through grant money, they do take donations and membership dues to fund brochures, promotion and other items. Cary said they have business, individual and family sponsorships, for anyone interested.
For more information, check out the byway organization on FB. You can connect directly to the page through the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway “community links” on the bottom of our homepage at www.sumtercountytimes.com