Many international travelers already know the way to the Florida Keys, but with last week’s designation of the Overseas Highway as an All American Road, organizations promoting tourism and commerce development hope to see those numbers increase.
A multi-year effort that began as a local Keep American Beautiful affiliate in 1996, the Florida Keys Scenic Corridor Alliance had to develop a master plan, a management plan and collect hundreds of letters of support to apply for the prestigious recognition.
Alliance president Judy Hull, who’d worked on similar projects over the course of her career, knew time was off the essence since this was the last time the federal transportation department would call for nominations.
“The All American Road designation will bring status to us with international travelers as well as domestic visitors, so they will know driving U.S. 1 is a one-of-a-kind experience,” Hull said. “It will also help us with tourism and future highway grant funding.”
This new status includes more than the pavement section of the highway. The All American Road includes the waterways and woodlands that extend five miles in either direction of the highway itself. That means local citizen groups like the Chambers of Commerce, area businesses, garden clubs, dive groups and nature enthusiast alike could apply for grants to build more kayak trails, clean up the roadways or help restore and rebuild area reefs. When applications by citizen groups are submitted at the federal level, those coming from areas with the All American Road designation go immediately to the top of the list.
“This type of grant funding will not be available to just any non-profit group or organization,” said Daniel Samess, CEO of the Marathon Chamber of Commerce. “This funding must be used for projects that enhance the travelers’ experience along the highway.”
Hull said she’d recently been in discussions with a local group looking to create a waterproof map of kayak trails in the area.
“That’s an excellent example of a project that would be eligible for funding through this program,” she said.
Samess said the Chamber plans to work in conjunction with the city and its staff to pursue various types of funding for projects around town.
“The city could apply for grants that go towards buying and importing sand to help with the beach erosion,” he added.
Though she said the federal grant cycle will likely be announced by the end of the year, the Corridor Alliance is currently working with local groups to have their ducks in a row before the grant cycle is announced.
In order to qualify for funding, Hull said, a project must answer the question, ‘This will enhance the travelers’ experience by doing what?’ A group must also be a 501c3 non-profit organization and have a Dun & Bradstreet number, which serves as another screening for the grant application process.
“The grant cycle is such a small window of opportunity, maybe two months at the most,” Hull said. “We’re really trying to get the word out now and tell these groups that if they wait to start working on the application, they may miss a critical opportunity for federal funding.”
Hull told The Weekly that it was only recently that $675,000 in grant funding was awarded from last year’s federal cycle.
“It’s a very complicated process, but it’s an excellent opportunity,” she continued. “There is so much information to know and learn. It is better to consult a professional grant writer than a small citizen group or non-profit organization trying to write a grant application by themselves.
There are a lot of knowledgeable people out there who do this for a living.”
Promotion and preservation are two key components of the federal program.
In addition to grant funding, this designation opens doors for partnerships, international marketing and a variety of resources at national level.
Monroe County Scenic Highway Coordinator Jane Tallman noted that the Federal Highway Administration has already awarded the Florida Keys Scenic Highway a $1.4 million grant for Key Deer Habitat Preservation and a $45,000 for Interpretive Panels that will be installed throughout the Keys.
Though FKSCA representatives celebrated their success late last week in Washington, DC, the local All-American Road celebration is a “Whistle-Stop Tour” scheduled to kick off at 9 am Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center on Key West’s Truman Waterfront.
The tour will continue east with additional celebrations stops scheduled for 10:30 am at Big Pine Key Park, noon at Marathon’s Crane Point Hammock, 1 pm at Layton City Hall, 2 pm at the Hurricane Monument in Islamorada, and the tour will conclude at 3:30 pm in Key Largo at the Chamber of Commerce. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.