Nine county convention and visitors bureaus between Columbus and Pittsburgh have collaborated to launch a travel website this month.

Nine county convention and visitors bureaus between Columbus and Pittsburgh have collaborated to launch a travel website this month.

The idea is to promote a corridor of back roads between the two cities, including businesses and tourist attractions on state Routes 161 and 16.

Susan Fryer, director of the Greater Licking County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the various bureaus each pitched in about $2,000 to establish the website, TriStateRoadTrip.com, which is intended to be self-sustaining with sponsorships.

"It was a collaboration starting off with Licking County and Dennison Railroad in Tuscarawas County, and we knew that along this corridor of state Routes 161 and 16, it becomes Route 37 for a while. There is a terrific tourism product along that route that has never been promoted as a region," Fryer said. "We wanted a website where people could go and find wonderful destinations, for weekends or even a weeklong trip to connect Columbus and Pittsburgh. As we worked, we found more and more hidden treasures along the route."

Linda Linham, a business consultant who returned to Ohio after working in the United Kingdom and Chicago, built the website through her company, Successful Ventures.

"I wanted to do something that would make a difference for towns east of here that I've known all my life and visited all my life," Linham said.

The economic downturn has hit visitors bureaus particularly hard, she said, because most of them rely on a "bed tax" for funding, and the drop in tourism and travel has hurt their budgets.

"In Licking County, the only marketing dollars they get come from the bed tax," Linham said. "When people don't travel, the bed tax begins to decline. The money to market Licking County has diminished."

Linham said the visitors bureaus responded to the crunch by pooling their resources.

"We have more than 110 communities so far, and we thought it would be 30 communities," Linham said. "It's places to eat, stay and play that people can hear about from local experts."

Linham said the site has had visitors from California and China. There is no charge for using the site, either for travelers or for businesses that want to be included in the site listings.

An example of a unusual business on the site is an antique-hardware and home-supply store in Tuscarawas County.

"There is a place called Old Home Architecture," Linham said. "They have things like a brass doorknob from a 1920s house. That's the kind of thing they've got."

Fryer said the route was more pleasant and interesting than the interstate highways.

"Come out and drive the route and see how beautiful the back roads in Ohio are," Fryer said. "You leave Columbus and come out state Route 161; it's so easy now to get out this way. You'll go through Roscoe Village, the Longaberger Homestead, Amish Country, on in to Pittsburgh. It's just beautiful and an undiscovered route."