Conservation Partner Spotlight: Scenic Texas

Texan by Nature works to bring conservation and business together in order to amplify projects and accelerate impact. We invest in initiatives that focus on conserving our natural resources, impacting people, and ensuring economic prosperity. Texan by Nature is proud to partner with 95+ conservation organizations, all working to positively benefit Texas’ natural resources and communities through innovative approaches.

In this post, we sit down with Sarah Tober, President and Executive Director of Scenic Texas, to learn more about what Scenic Texas does and how their mission contributes to the conservation, beautification, and prosperity of Texas’ environment, people, and economy.

Sarah Tober, President and Executive Director of Scenic Texas

TxN: What is Scenic Texas? 

Sarah: Scenic Texas is a 37-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of our state’s visual environment, particularly as seen by the traveling public. We are the only state nonprofit that helps citizens safeguard the scenic qualities of Texas roadways, countryside, and communities.

TxN: What was the motivation behind forming Scenic Texas? 

Sarah: Scenic Texas emerged from the visionary leadership of Texas’ own Lady Bird Johnson, who began the scenic movement during her husband’s presidency. The First Lady believed in Texas the Beautiful and America the Beautiful and understood that beauty was more than aesthetics. Lady Bird’s work over the years culminated in the adoption of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act that sought to control junkyards and billboards. In 1972, Texas adopted our own Highway Beautification Act. She wrote this to Scenic America in 1990 when we honored her for life’s work and we couldn’t agree more with her vision:

TxN: How does Scenic Texas achieve its mission?

Sarah: We take a three-prong approach to achieving our mission through advocacy, education, and collective impact. In advocacy, we are at the nexus of policy making and place making, educating lawmakers at the city, county, state, and national level on the importance of our natural resources and the preservation of our visual environment. Through education and collective impact, we lead the Scenic City Certification Program (SCCP) with our 18 program partners. The 85 certified cities throughout the state have accomplished a comprehensive review and ranking of the community’s visual environment from dark sky lighting, signage standards, and utility line programs, to ensuring there is enough green space, connectivity for pedestrian and bike options, and esplanade plantings that capture carbon, filter run off, and create beautiful pockets of nature in the built environment.

TxN: What are examples of past or current Scenic Texas projects/programs?

Sarah: Our organizational founders, including founding chair Carroll Shaddock, have a long history of planting trees in their community. As founding chair of Trees for Houston, Shaddock began a legacy of tree planting, pro-scenic beauty, and streetscape enhancements. With our 1 Million Trees Across Texas initiative, we are helping communities further enhance their roads by providing native species of trees to be planted along roads, highways, and parks. We are working with TxDOT Green Ribbon Program and Texas Forest Service to provide resources to these communities for best practices in planting and maintenance to ensure these mini-forests and tree plantings are cultivated for decades of scenic beauty enjoyment.

TxN: What are the ecological and economic benefits of the projects that Scenic Texas works on?

Sarah: Resiliency has become a focal point in strengthening our communities. As Texas grapples with the effects of the global pandemic, this is the time for our cities to invest in infrastructure that interweaves nature and our surrounding environment. The Scenic City Certification Program is an answer to the need for integrated planning. Residents need green spaces, parks, walkable sidewalks, high quality public spaces, and the scenic drives and roads that connect us all.

This program helps communities become more resilient to rapid growth and urbanization. Administered by Scenic Texas and our program partners, this program recognizes municipalities that implement high quality scenic standards for public roadways and public spaces. Cities with strong scenic standards reflect civic pride, benefit from a solid sense of community character and are well positioned for economic growth.

Other benefits include:

  • Providing expert third-party evaluation of existing standards.
  • Forming a basis for continual review and analysis of development plans.
  • Serving as a platform to educate citizens on the impact of local regulations.
  • Supporting economic development efforts as it relates to nature and the built environment working in harmony.

TxN: How can individuals and organizations get involved and learn more?

Sarah: Individuals can get involved with Scenic Texas in a number of ways. You can sign-up on our website to receive our quarterly newsletter and/or become a Scenic Texas Member for $35 annually which helps to sustain our operations. You can volunteer for a tree planting in the fall by letting us know you’re interested at info@scenictexas.org. Also, our scenic chapters throughout the state have local initiatives that you can participate in as a member.

TxN: What is in store for the future of Scenic Texas?

Sarah: Currently, Scenic Texas is collaborating with the University of Texas at Austin to boost resources and tools for rapid population growth in rural and mid-sized Texas communities. To assist in this effort, we have recruited Dr. Steven Pedigo, the Director of the UT LBJ Urban Lab, to our new Advisory Council. We are also hiring a graduate student to complete 10 case studies on the established SCCP visual environment tenets. The compendium of these case studies will provide communities with best practices to not only establish visual environment standards but address community planning and ordinances needed to ensure resiliency for both residents and tourists.

Scenic Texas is also working at the Texas Legislature to implement a State Scenic Highway Program. We are the only state in the nation that does not have this program. This program will provide recognition to what our organization has understood all along — scenic drives are beautiful, and deserve to be preserved and acknowledged. These scenic drives are not only good for mental health and environmental impact, but drive economic development and tourism, especially to adjacent communities. You can learn more about why we should have a State Scenic Byways Program in our op-ed in the Big Bend Gazette.

TxN: Is there anything else that you would like to share? 

Sarah: We are looking for board and chapter members that represent Texas’ diverse regions and backgrounds. As we continue to build our organization around the scenic movement, please reach out to us if you have interest in becoming a member, getting your community Scenic City Certified, riding in our annual Ride for Scenic Texas, volunteering for a tree planting in the fall, or just want to learn more about how you can help make Texas more scenic. Contact us at info@scenictexas.org or 512.546.3273.

Learn more about the Scenic Texas on their website and follow along on their social media channels for regular updates – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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