Leaders of cities located on Lake Minnetonka are exploring creating a scenic byway around the lake to boost tourism and better brand the area as a regional destination.
Representatives from each of the 14 lake cities will meet with state officials this month to discuss the idea of designating the roadways around the lake as the state’s 22nd scenic byway, creating marketing and signs to direct visitors and point out existing attractions.
“It’s really a way to market the area,” Wayzata Mayor Ken Willcox said. “It gives you the opportunity to tie the whole Lake Minnetonka community together.”
Minnetonka is already Minnesota’s most heavily used lake, but the scenic byway idea is part of a broader effort led by Excelsior and Wayzata to draw more of those boaters and visitors into their small towns, bumping up business and city revenue by selling the area as a destination like Stillwater.
The state has 21 scenic byways, including the North Shore Scenic Byway — which follows Lake Superior up to Split Rock Lighthouse, state parks and other northern Minnesota sites — and the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway in Minneapolis — a loop around the Chain of Lakes, Mississippi River, Minnehaha Creek and city sites.
Now, Lake Minnetonka cities are interested in doing the same, inspired in part by an East Coast lake community that has banded together to rebrand themselves as a regional destination and by Wayzata’s recent designation of its historic Bushaway Road as a local scenic byway.
“Each city has things that they want to show off,” Willcox said.
A possible 41-mile scenic byway wouldn’t require any construction — just signs to better guide visitors along the multiple roads that go around the 125-mile shoreline.
Leaders from all 14 cities — Deephaven, Excelsior, Greenwood, Minnetonka, Minnetonka Beach, Minnetrista, Mound, Orono, Shorewood, Spring Park, Tonka Bay, Victoria, Wayzata and Woodland — will meet with staff from the state Department of Transportation to discuss the idea at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 24 at the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.
All the cities would need to approve resolutions supporting the designation, a coordinating group would be formed and an application would need to be submitted to the state’s scenic byway commission, made up of representatives from MnDOT, the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Historical Society and Explore Minnesota.
Already, Laura Hotvet, the executive director of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce, said visitors often stop in its offices asking for directions to a scenic route around the lake.
“It’s very exciting and a total natural fit for the area,” said Hotvet, who is also a Shorewood City Council member. “It will bring people to see some new things.”