Jim Oberstar’s passing has not gone unnoticed at Paul Bunyan’s logging camp. Oberstar held the powerful seat as chair of the House Transportation Committee during the early days of the establishment of the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway in 1998.
But even dearer to the hearts of byway folks across the nation was Oberstar’s unwavering support of the Scenic Byways Program. Key to the program were the efforts of Rep. Jim Oberstar, along with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, in 1989, to require a byways study by the Federal Highway Administration.
In December of 1991, then-president George H.W. Bush, who called byways “the roads Americans love,” signed legislation creating the National Scenic Byways Program.
The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway (PBSB), in 2005, after nearly eight years as an official state scenic byway, applied for and was awarded national scenic byway status.
Along with other scenic byways across the United States that had also achieved national designation that year, PBSB Association representatives Lynn Scharenbroich and Linda Ulland attended a celebration event in Washington, D.C., hosted by Oberstar and his colleagues from the Transportation Committee. Oberstar’s enthusiasm for the byways program was strong and infectious, inspiring all who attended the event.
That inspiration led the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association to seek a five-year federal sustainability grant offered only to those byways that had gained the prestigious national designation. The grant was awarded to the PBSB and enabled important increased capacity building for the organization as it moved toward long-term sustainability.
With three years remaining on this grant, funding was suddenly eliminated.
In an heroic attempt to help regain that funding for the PBSB, Oberstar made a trip to Pequot Lakes to talk directly with PBSBA representatives. Although this particular funding could not be salvaged, that kind of support from the chair of the powerful House Transportation Committee was exceptionally moving.
Rep. Jim Oberstar, the driving force behind the creation of the National Scenic Byways Program, was a true friend. He urged byway supporters to work vigorously together to take advantage of every opportunity to maintain a strong future for America’s byways.
It’s with great gratitude that the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association will always remember Jim Oberstar.