The Route 169 National Scenic Byway is located in Eastern Connecticut in the Quinebaug River Valley, and features farms, orchards, and historic inns & homes along its entire length. The right-of-way has been in use since the 1600’s and the colonial houses, old churches, pastures, and stone walls lining the road take you back in time. The rural nature of the route also makes it one of the best New England Fall foliage drives and there is local concern for “Protecting the character of Route 169.”
Starting in the town of Lisbon, Connecticut, the route travels north-south for thirty-two miles through five towns, ending at the Massachusetts border.
The scenic byway begins without a sign, by taking Exit 83A off of 395 Eastbound. The westbound side of the interstate does not service Route 169. The exit deposits you anonymously at 169, however the beat up signs and highway exit litter do not point out the direction of the scenic route. Take a left. The first sign announcing it is a third of a mile north of the exit. The region could do well to advertise the presence of this scenic route from the interstate.
Route 169 intersects major east-west Routes 14, 6, and 44. The intersections are typically flashing four-way stops, usually the only automated traffic control in any of the towns. The intersection of Route 6 is the sole exception. Near these intersections, signs designate a "Wine Trail;" In the northern towns of Pomfret and Woodstock, cafes and restaurants can be found adjacent to 169.
It’s a road where you can take your time and catch the view while you drive. Occasionally, you’ll pass a classic car show, or an ice cream stand. Unfortunately, there are very few safe spots to pull over. You may encounter a local tail-gaiter in a hurry to get somewhere, or, during the harvest season, you could be stuck behind a tractor. Fortunately, there are clearly marked passing zones.
As I have grown up, I’ve seen orchard and farm space disappear, and warehouses and McMansions spring up along Route 169, many of which have a "for sale" sign in front. Perhaps there isn’t a demand for these "out of character" types of land uses along this route.
A nuisance neighbor who decides on a four car garage can rile up a neighborhood every so often, and along the route, there is an occasional junk yard. A rusted bus or two can also be spotted, but they provide character. Garish raised-ranches on what was obviously once a cornfield can make jarring counterpoints to the beauty of the route, but the semi-frequent abandoned and falling barn blends in, without disruption, a pleasant aesthetic fit.
The biggest disruption to the route's character has to be public road signs and roadside trash upkeep. It seems that only one out of ten signs stands upright, wherein they give the appearance of being litter. Could the signs be mounted to telephone poles? It would certainly make the drive safer and more scenic by removing roadside obstacles. While the towns along Route 169 have ordinances relating to commercial signs, state road safety signs are beyond the town’s purview.
Being a state road, the Connecticut Department of Transportation or the state legislature should revisit rural road sign policies to assist the local preservation effort.
How does state or federal policy impact the character of where you live?
Credits: Images by Dan Malo. Data linked to sources.