The Saratoga Sun -

Footsteps through time

Battle Pass gets history, beauty recognized as a scenic byway

 

Erik Gantt

John Farr discusses the history of the Battle Pass Scenic Highway designation near the interpretive signs overlooking Battle Creek.

On a perfect fall-color drive a little over one month ago, John Farr told the story of making Battle Pass a scenic byway.

The story of the pass itself includes paleoindians hunting mammoths, settlers and travelers traversing the landscape, tie hacks and miners eking out a living, boom towns that busted, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and the ecology and economic contribution of the forest.

Battle Pass is a 57-mile stretch of Wyoming Highway 70 between Encampment and Savery that is mostly in the Medicine Bow National Forest. It is a locally favored area for hunting, fishing and leaf peeping. The widely renown Aspen Alley is accessed via the pass. Even with all of these attractions, the road is rarely congested with traffic, making it a great place for a leisurely drive through some spectacular scenery.

Farr has been coming up to the Platte Valley for 70 years, starting in 1943 as a child visiting on fishing trips, and is now living out his retirement years in Encampment. He has taken a special interest in the pass and was instrumental in finalizing the scenic byway designation.

According to Farr, the push to create the Battle Pass Scenic Byway began in the early 1990s and there was even a ceremony to dedicate the scenic byway in 1994. The ceremony, held during a snowstorm on the continental divide, included whiskey toasts, but the necessary paperwork was never completed and it wasn't until 2012 that the designation became official.

Farr and others, including Jerry Paxton and Bill Wadsworth, began the effort to have the scenic byway officially designated in Jan. 2010. Farr figured out the rules and the protocol to submit the information, but had less than a month to complete the submission.

That was the year a big landslide that took out part of the highway on the Encampment side of the pass. The landslide put the byway designation low on the department of transportation's list of things to do. In 2011, there were forest fires in the area and the review of the byway was pushed off again. Finally, in November 2012 the highway commission approved the scenic byway designation.

Once the designation was in place, Farr and a small group began to address the need to replace the interpretive signs along the highway. They created the Battle Pass Scenic Byway Alliance, which is a non-profit to raise money for signs and other interpretive needs for the byway.

Farr used the summer of 2014 to replace existing signs that had been weathered to a point that they were nearly unreadable. It turns out that the Forest Service had duplicates of most of the sign in storage since the 1990s when they were originally installed. It took a lot of elbow grease, but Farr, with the help of Paxton and Wadsworth, completed the project in mid-September.

Farr has some favorite signs on the pass. "Footsteps through time, I really like that one, because it tells ... a lot of stories in one piece ... from the mammoths, to the Indians, to the trains, to the tie hacks forward," Farr said. He notes that the signs are important because, "if you're going to have a tourist route you've got to give some information."

Farr acknowledges the story of Battle Pass is ever-changing. He pointed out the sign about a blowdown in the 1880s and timber harvesting prior to the beetle kill epidemic are outdated, and beetle kill is the new story of the forest.

The scenic byway is already being featured in tourism publications. The Official State Highway Map of Wyoming now has Aspen Alley on the cover and fall foliage on Battle Pass as additional art. According to Farr, 2014 was the first year the department of transportation featured scenic byways on the state map.

In addition to publications in regional tourism magazines, Farr and the byway alliance may develop an audio tour for Battle Pass that can be downloaded to a smartphone. He said "you've got to interpret the story." Future signs will discuss Aspen Alley and aspen ecology and the ditch system which supports a population of cutthroat trout.

For more information on the scenic byway contact the alliance at (307) 710-3277.

 

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