Legions upon legions of international adventurers in search of an authentic American experience flock to a dusty Arizona town to bask in the warm smile of a humble barber. In the tarnished old mining town of Galena, a fast talking, always smiling spitfire of a gal is a celebrity known throughout the world.
A stretch of brick covered highway in Illinois is a destination. Likewise with a ghost town astride the Texas and New Mexico border, a neon framed motel in Tucumcari, a hippies school bus turned home in Pontiac, a bridge on the Mississippi River, and a family run cafe in Oklahoma.
Thousands of enthusiasts from most every corner of the globe descend on Kingman, Arizona, in August, for an oversize family reunion, a party, and a bit of Route 66 business. A Norman Rockwell portrait of small town America made manifest in a quaint festival in a town named Cuba attracts people from Texas and Arizona, Massachusetts and California.
The Route 66 renaissance is unfolding with blinding speed. But with the rebirth, with the tsunami of fascination that translates to a crush of visitors and travelers there are challenges, pitfalls, and problems that threaten the old roads future.
How do you preserve the authentic American experience but cater to an international fan base? How do you maintain the historic infrastructure integral to the roads character but ensure safety? How do you meet the future needs of travelers but preserve the essence of a road trip on Route 66 during its golden years? How do you bridge the chasm that is the diversity of communities and their needs?
It begins at the grassroots, just as it did during the creation of the National Old Trails Highway, establishment of the various Route 66 associations, and the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman. Now, however, if the renaissance is to flourish we need to harness the power of that grass roots movement and to build a community with a unified sense of purpose.
Examples of fledgling efforts to accomplish this abound. There was the World Monument Fund symposium in Anaheim last November. There was the unprecedented Route 66 Crossroads of the Past and Future Conference during the 2014 Route 66 International festival. There is Rich Dinkela’s donation in the form of the Events on Route 66 website (under development). Now, the World Monument Fund has facilitated establishment of a steering committee to evaluate means for further development of this unified sense of community to ensure the essence of Route 66 survives to the highways centennial and beyond.
From its inception Route 66 has been an ever evolving highway. In the past that evolution never was fast enough to keep pace with changing needs. Will that historic trend with the evolution of the renaissance?