Traversing over the bridges outlooking the blue waters of the Florida Keys never gets old, especially for Islamorada Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Judy Hull.
“I think my favorite part is driving to work or to meetings and looking out the window at the gorgeous view and just thinking how incredibly lucky we are to be living, working and playing here,” she said.
Hull played a major role in enhancing the scenic image of Overseas Highway, and her leadership and efforts went rewarded in early November as she received the 2019 Garry Balogh Inspiring Excellent Award during a Florida Scenic Highways meeting in DeBary.
The award honors the late Balogh, a state Department of Transportation employee who was responsible for the designation and successful implementation of many Florida Scenic Highways. Recognizing leadership, innovation and achievements that have made a lasting impact on a scenic highway, the award was destined for Hull, who played a key role in resurrecting the byway organization in the Keys and achieving All-American Road status for Overseas Highway.
“Judy is the one-and-only Floridian to get a road recognized nationally as an All- American Road, the highest designation possible by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation,” said Jeff Caster, program coordinator for the Florida Scenic Highways Program. “And 10 years later, it remains the state’s only All American Road, one of only 31 nationally.”
The Florida Keys Scenic Highway was designated as a Florida Scenic Highway in 2001. The byway was managed by Clean Florida Keys, but after two years, it disbanded and the organization was no more. That’s when Hull stepped in to bring life back to the group, thus establishing the Florida Keys Scenic Corridor that assumed management and responsibility.
Once established, Hull worked to reestablish long-neglected partnerships up and down the Keys. From the chambers of commerce to the county and Florida Department of Transportation, she led updates to an outdate corridor management plan while guiding the organization and its missions and vision into the future.
That vision led to All-American Highway status for the 110-miles of road from Key Largo to Key West. Designated by the Federal Highway Administration in 2009, Overseas Highway is the only All-American Road in Florida, and one of 30 in the U.S. The designation brought significant research and coordination, and Hull says the application filled a three-ring binder. In achieving an All-American Road status, the thoroughfare must possess characteristics of national significance that don’t exist elsewhere — making it a visitor destination in and of itself.
“I have known Judy for seven years. She is one of the most organized, positive and community-focused leaders I have ever had the opportunity to meet,” said Bill Doxey, Florida Keys Scenic Highway Alliance president. “I’m proud to call Judy my friend and enjoy serving with her on the board.”
With 110 miles, Hull said she wanted to get a letter of support for every mile, from clubs and government organization to the Tourism Development Council. Hull says Jackie Harder and Carol Ann Sharkey were also instrumental in getting designated. To celebrate the designation, a Whistle Stop Tour throughout the Keys was held.
“We had a scenic highway, but we felt we ought to have an All-American Road,” Hull said. “Visitors who drive on that highway are going to see some of the most scenic and historic places in the nation. It’s the roadway that goes to the seaway.”
Hull says she’s extremely pleased to have been nominated and selected as this year’s Balogh award recipient. She received the award in front of a room full of members representing 25-plus scenic highways in the state.
“It’s a really good meeting to attend, and you’re in the room with some great people,” she says. “It was very exciting.”
Originally completed in 1938, the Overseas Highway incorporates 42 bridges over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. They include the Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon, which stretches 6.79 miles across open water and was referred to on its completion as “the eighth wonder of the world.”