It will probably be forever known as the Beeline Highway, but Highway 87 is about to officially become the Beeline Scenic Parkway.
The "scenic parkway" designation, expected to be conferred this month by the Arizona Department of Transportation Board for Highway Designation, was chosen "scenic highway" because it makes the 45-mile stretch of Highway 87 from mile marker 201 to mile marker 246 eligible for federal money to create scenic turnouts and other improvements.
"The designation gets you signage," Mesa del Caballo resident, Susan Campbell, a member of the Arizona Parkways and Historic and Scenic Roads Advisory Committee, said. "It can also get you remediation in terms of, say, replacing aluminum guardrails with the aged, rusty stuff that blends in more. You can get turnouts for scenic views, some interpretive stuff."
Campbell said that retaining the word "Beeline" was a victory in itself.
"It's typically supposed to be named after a geographic feature on the road like the Mazatzals or something, but there was nothing anybody liked better than Beeline, so (the committee) decided to keep it," she said. "This highway is never going to be known as anything but the Beeline, so I think everybody held out for that."
The committee originally selected the Beeline Highway for scenic designation in November 2003, but the name selection delayed the process until now.
"We rate the road on visual quality, vividness, intactness and unity," Campbell said. "We give them each points, and then we also look at the foreground, the middle ground, and the background."
At first, the committee intended to use mileposts 204 and 246 as the designation boundaries. The extra three miles were added onto the southern end.
"It starts at right about the Four Peaks turnoff," Campbell said.
"They have improved the highway below where the four lanes came together and there was no dividing island. It's all changed now; they've got an island in there all the way down. Milepost 246 is right before OxBow Estate because there's too much interference there."
Leroy Brady, chairman of the Arizona Parkways and Historic and Scenic Roads Advisory Committee, said the damage caused by the Willow Fire last summer had to be considered.
"I realize that the fire destroyed a certain amount of how things looked," Brady said. "But it will give (the Beeline) a new look in just a year or two, so you can't say it's degraded. All you can say is that it's changed."
An increase in tourism for the Rim country is one significant advantage of the designation.
"It definitely will (help)," Scott Flake, director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, said. "The designation will be included in information put out by the state; the concierges at the different hotels will have information on it and hopefully send people up in this direction. For example, if they're deciding to go north and they're deciding between Payson and Prescott, they might go the scenic highway route instead of I-17."
Campbell said another part of the Beeline might soon be redesignated as well.
"In the future, the highway up to Pine is probably going to be redone and we'll look at another stretch, but for right now we feel we've got a really nice chunk that is very scenic," she said.
Both Flake and Campbell credited local resident Judy Miller and former resident Jeanne Westphal for their efforts in nominating the road for consideration.
Work on widening the Beeline to four lanes was completed in 2001. The project earned several design and environmental awards, including a Valley Forward Environmental Excellence award.
Other roads previously designated as scenic include the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road; the Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road; the Kaibab Plateau North Rim Scenic Parkway; the Apache Trail Historic Road; the Gila-Pinal Scenic Road; the Red Rock Scenic Road; Historic Route 66; the Coronado Trail Scenic Road; San Francisco Peaks Scenic Road; the Joshua Forest Scenic Road; the Jerome-Clarkdale-Cottonwood Historic Road; and the Mingus Mountain Scenic Road.
Campbell believes the Beeline deserves to be placed in the scenic category.
"It's wonderful," she said. "It's a four-lane highway, but the drive is half the fun. If your goal is to make good time you can do that, but if you want to have a good time you can do that too. It takes you basically through the heart of Arizona. You get out of that saguaro life zone and you start coming up, and it's such a good representation of Arizona."