The recent Route 66 symposium has the potential to transform the road, as well as ensure its vitality and relevance for decades to come. It could easily serve as a foundation for realistic and sustainable development and the creation of a real linear community rather than an envisioned one.
However, for any of this to take place it is imperative we address divisions and hurt feelings that resulted from the symposium as a first step. Then we can craft a unified sense of purpose by finding a single point of focus, and making that our goal.
As an example, the centennial of Route 66 is looming on the horizon, an event noted at the symposium. If we center our vision on that, we see the immediate need to preserve the staggering number of first and second generation bridges currently scheduled for demolition or replacement.
A preservation project of this magnitude will not be accomplished by a single community, a divided entity, or a few spirited Route 66 enthusiasts. It will require a coordinated and unified sense of purpose from the Route 66 community if we are to emulate the preservation success of the Marsh Arch Bridge in Kansas, the Lake Overholser Bridge in Oklahoma, or the Colorado Bridge in Pasadena on a national level.
Bridge preservation is but one issue requiring immediate attention that is revealed when we focus on the highways centennial. Bicycle tourism is an increasingly popular component in Route 66 tourism.
Developing the infrastructure to accommodate this aspect of the roads future can not be accomplished by Kingman or Pontiac alone. It will require the unified participation of every community from Chicago to Santa Monica.
Under the auspices of developing infrastructure for the bicyclist, we have a viable venue for the preservation of historic bridges, and currently abandoned alignments of Route 66. We also have another opportunity to bridge chasms of division and replace apathy with enthusiasm.
Developing a bicyclist friendly infrastructure would have the added benefit of addressing another issue raised at the symposium, the need to attract a younger audience. Currently, Route 66 tourism is dominated by an aging Caucasian demographic, an issue that could very well endanger the celebration of the roads centennial as well as its future if not addressed as a community.
In closing I feel the need to address the numerous notes and phone calls expressing concern about divisions and exclusions received since the symposium. To fully utilize the wealth of information derived from the conference, these issues need to be resolved.
As noted previously, I am unsure who drafted the list of invited participants. However, there is little doubt that the decision of who to include and who to exclude must have been daunting.
Why did I receive an invitation instead of Patrick Tuttle, the Joplin tourism director who spearheaded an amazing festival this past August? Why was the mayor of Pontiac invited but not the mayor of Galena?
Obviously it would have been an impossibility to invite everyone who works hard to preserve and promote Route 66. Additionally, inclusion of just the 700 people who requested an opportunity to attend after the issuance of invitations would have resulted in an unwieldy, unmanageable conference.
In all honesty I am unsure what my reaction or thoughts would be if I had been excluded from participation. However, I sincerely think that my first reaction would be to contact an attendee, and ask what I could do or how I could lend assistance to ensure the symposium didn’t become another missed opportunity.
Instead of seeing exclusion as a personal slight, I respectively request that this conference be viewed in the context of what it means to the Route 66 community as a whole. I also suggest that each and everyone with a vested interest in the preservation of iconic Route 66 strive to assist in the building of a functional coalition that can serve as mediator, facilitator, and for the Route 66 community as a whole.
With that thought in mind, let me attempt to clarify concerns expressed about the Route 66 Alliance and rumors that Michael Wallis was slighted at the symposium. At no time did I witness anything but expressions of respect for Michael Wallis and his efforts to promote as well as preserve Route 66 and its unique culture.
In discussions pertaining to the need for an umbrella organization to coordinate preservation, development, and promotion in an effort to avoid wasted resources of time and money resultant of duplicated efforts, there was almost universal agreement. What could not be agreed upon was if it was best to build this organization on the foundation of an existent one, or if it would be best to start fresh.
Dominating the argument for creation of a new entity were existing conflicts, and the apparent inability of existing organizations to fully address issues of concern, or bring a sense of unity to the Route 66 community. Additionally, there is a justifiable perception that some current organizations exist in name only.
In regard to the Route 66 Alliance, it was noted that their website events page still lists the Joplin festival held this past August, but not the Route 66 International Festival scheduled for August 2014 in Kingman. As this entity is the sanctioning body for this event, such an oversight was presented as evidence that the Alliance exists in name only.
In my opinion, the timing of an announcement by Rick Freeland pertaining to changes being made to the Route 66 Alliance tainted his important message. As evidenced by inquiries received, it may have also actually fostered division.
Still, the Route 66 Alliance represents a very solid foundation for the creation of an entity that can emulate the success of the original U.S. Highway 66 Association. If Route 66 is to survive and thrive, this will be crucial.
However, I would be remiss if the National Historic Route 66 Federation were not mentioned in this conversation. What will be their role in the development of an umbrella organization and can the Route 66 Alliance form an arrangement with them that serves as a template for unification?