“Horses make a landscape look beautiful”  – Alice Walker

horse and barn southwestIn the United States we are very fortunate to have an abundance of diverse natural beauty resulting in very distinctive communities across the country. These varied landscapes and vistas provide communities with a sense of pride and individuality, setting them apart from other places around the country.

Because a significant amount of our sensory experience is visual, people respond positively to places that are visually appealing.  Protecting desirable views therefore can help promote the general health and welfare of a community and region. A view shed is a conserved area which has been defined and zoned in order to protect the rural character and natural beauty of the local landscape.  A view shed can also be described as a protected scenic vista. View sheds and special vistas can be experienced and enjoyed by foot, bicycle, horseback, motorized vehicle, rail or from a nearby window.

As opposed to a view shed, a view corridor is a conservation space located on one or both sides of a thoroughfare, usually a road or highway. View corridors are defined as distance in feet from the centerline of the roadway. The purpose of a view corridor is to enhance the experience of the traveler by protecting the scenic beauty and rural character of the road margins. The elements of the scenic beauty of corridors are often composed of both natural as well as cultural features: forests, lakes, streams, farms, and cultivated fields. View corridors and view sheds may be used in combination. These special vistas, views, scenic areas, view sheds and corridors can provide significant benefits to our communities such as increasing property values and tourism revenues while enhancing the desirability and livability of our community and overall quality of life.

horses and barnFurthermore we can describe view sheds as the “signature” landscapes that define or brand a particular region or locale.  In essence they are central to our sense of place, history and culture. For example, when people think of specific communities such as the Lexington KY, Tryon NC, Ocala FL, Aiken SC, Middleburg VA, or Brandywine PA areas, to name just a few, equine imagery immediately comes to mind.  These locations have identified and successfully branded themselves as equine friendly communities attracting both tourists and potential residents because of the desirable view sheds associated with horse lands.

While desirable landscapes are important to the overall quality of our communities, scenic vistas and view sheds are often destroyed during sudden change and uncontrolled development. When development occurs on or around exceptional views or notable landmarks, it can have a dramatic impact upon whether people still consider that place unique. Imagine, if you will, development caused by rapid change that severally impacted the scenic Thoroughbred horse farms of Lexington KY with their miles and miles of recognizable black board fence encircling acres upon acres of sprawling finely landscaped bluegrass pastures. The uniqueness of that community branded as the “Horse Capital of the World” would be lost forever along with all the benefits associated with it.

Protecting scenic vistas and view sheds from the effects of development allows a community to preserve not only its unique charm, but helps build local pride while attracting and sustaining positive growth to the area. Fortunately, defining and protecting view sheds has been gaining popularity in recent times as an important component of smart growth and scenic stewardship beneficial to both local residents and tourists.

Local planners can avoid projects that undermine the scenic value of their communities, and developers can place protective easements that preserve scenic buffers while increasing the value of the lots they develop.  Donating or placing an easement on scenic land helps protect the character and overall well-being of a community or region for the enjoyment and benefit of both current and future residents.