Recent conversations with Dan Rice, owner of 66 to Cali on Santa Monica Pier, Jane Reed, a driving force behind the transformation of Cuba, Missouri utilizing the resurgent interest in Route 66, and Josh Noble, the tourism director in Kingman, have left few doubts that former U.S. 66, now known lovingly throughout the world as Route 66, is alive, well, and thriving. Evidence of this is found all along the highway.
Just look at the exponential increase of popularity being awarded 66 the Mother Road, or check out the reviews on Tripadvisor for properties such as the Wagon Wheel Motel, the Munger Moss Motel, the Blue Swallow Motel, the Motel Safari, the Galaxy Diner or the Ariston Cafe. Surf the net in search of Route 66 related sites and forums. Still, as exciting as this is, I can’t help but feel we are missing something of great importance in the single minded focus on iconic Route 66. The resurgent interest in this highway is more than the fostering of a bastion of mom and pop enterprise, it is the template for a new era of small business and a catalyst for the development of heritage travel that could fuel the renovation of historic businesses on other bypassed highways.
Route 66 is in a league of its own. No other highway in America can hope to ever equal it in popularity but is it possible for other communities connected by other forgotten highways to ride on its coat tails and emulate what is taking place on Route 66 with a degree of success? Can colorful communities that are rich with history such as Coldwater, Michigan on historic and scenic U.S. 12, or Towanda, Pennsylvania on U.S. 6, or Craig, Colorado on U.S. 40 move into the shadow of Route 66 from the darkness of obscurity?The development of heritage travel tourism is about more than economic development, it is also the rediscovery of what has made this one of the most amazing countries in history and the rebuilding of a solid foundation for the future. This pride, this building of links with the past for a strong future, this passion for a return to a pregeneric world, is a tangible force all along Route 66. What if this spirit, this passion was unleashed in the communities along U.S. 6, U.S. 50, U.S 30?
I have been giving thought to this a great deal in recent months. It was in conversation with Dan Rice about the rise of heritage travel that the ideas came rushing to the forefront of my thoughts. But why stop there. If we dare to imagine, let us dream big. Could heritage travel be a cornerstone for an American renaissance? Imagine small town America where small grocers thrive by selling locally grown produce, and, as in Cuba, shoe stores serve generations of customers and the owners know their customers and their families by name? Imagine the possibilities of an America where the essence of Route 66 is coupled to the wonders of the modern era. Imagine the wonders possible with the unleashing of the entrepreneurial spirit manifesting all along Route 66. Dare to imagine a world where the journey is again just as important as the destination. Travel Route 66 in 2012 and unleash your imagination. Get your kicks on America’s most famous highway, catch a bit of the enthusiasm you will find there, take it home, and turn it loose in your community to see what will grow.