The Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway
The Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway is comprised of 28 secondary roads within the Red Clay Creek Watershed, located in New Castle County, Delaware. The origins of this byway planning effort come from work undertaken by the Delaware Nature Society (DNS) over many years to inventory and seek protection for the irreplaceable resources of the Red Clay Watershed (which were inventoried as scenic, natural, historic, recreational, cultural, and archeological ‘intrinsic qualities’). With the help of Gaadt Perspectives, DNS and its partners achieved designation of the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway as a “Scenic and Historic Highway” by the State of Delaware. Designating multiple roads within a single watershed is unique and it soon became clear that this effort was the first of its kind in the nation.
Why do watershed-based planning for scenic roads? The reason is that the roads of the Red Clay Valley form an interconnected and interdependent network closely linked to the Red Clay Creek and its watershed area. This effort was pursued because it was determined that the roads in the watershed mimic an interconnected stream system as defined by the stream order concept. Under this thinking, one of the watershed’s main transportation routes (Route 82 – Creek Road) serves as the “main stem” with 1st and 2nd order “streams” (road corridors) linking at points of confluence (intersections). As with a stream system, all ordered roads play an integral part in the linked network. While each road has unto itself a corridor boundary, the watershed boundary of the Red Clay Valley has intrinsic value that is an integral component of each road’s character. Thus, while each road has a separate identified corridor boundary, the overall study boundary is the Red Clay Creek Watershed. Just as healthy streams evolved and meandered to shape and define their watersheds, so too did the road network that evolved in the Red Clay Valley. Together, the intrinsic qualities of the Byway tell a unique story of scenic beauty, diverse natural resources, and a historically significant development pattern that contributed to the Valley’s growth and preservation.
Byway designation led to the development of a Corridor Management Plan (CMP), the intent of which is to “ensure the preservation and conservation of the irreplaceable resources that together form the Red Clay Valley and its Scenic Byway.” The CMP is a comprehensive and articulate planning document which lays out a vision for the protection and stewardship of resources and the wise development of private property. Implementation of the plan involved the creation of the “Scenic Byway Alliance”, the management agency charged with implementation, as well as the articulation of a series of management strategies that have been acted on in subsequent years.
Ongoing implementation recently led to revisions of New Castle County’s Unified Development Code, creating a Red Clay Valley Scenic Overlay District to protect the Byway. Accompanying these regulations are Design Guidelines, which illustrate how to properly plan and design for growth in the Byway and protect the Byway’s irreplaceable intrinsic qualities. The qualitative design measures contained in the guidelines augment the requirements of the overlay district, providing both mandatory processes and voluntary approaches to scenic protection.
At a past National Scenic Byways Conference (such conferences has since been suspended), the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway was hailed as “the type of byways effort everyone will be mimicking in the years ahead.” One representative from the Federal Bureau of Land Management even stated, “You are ten years ahead of the curve on this project.”
The Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway in Delaware is a watershed-based planning effort unlike any other scenic byway designation in the United States and puts the Red Clay Valley in New Castle County, Delaware at the forefront of innovative byway and watershed management efforts.