The iconic Blue Swallow Motel inTucumcari, New Mexico
In the fall of 1862, Henry Wickenburg discovered gold in a hard rock outcropping of quartz. Riches didn’t come easy as extraction of the ore required financing, hard work, and miners. As it turned out, the Wickenburg discovery that became the Vulture Mine was one of the richest strikes in the Territory of Arizona.In the same year there was another major discovery of gold in the Arizona Territory. This time, however, fortune came easy. In just a few short weeks, Pauline Weaver and his party purportedly gathered more than $100,000 in gold nuggets from the slopes and washes on what became known as Rich Hill near present day Stanton, Arizona.
Many communities, including those along the Route 66 corridor, spend tens of millions of dollars on studies, improvement projects, and marketing. More often than not, the result is worthy of Wickenburg who ended up with $20,000 for a mine that eventually produced more than 340,000 ounces of gold, and 260,000 ounces of silver.
Any community can be transformed into a destination for travelers even though those located on Route 66, and especially on Route 66 in the southwest, have a distinct advantage. Moreover, the process of transforming a community into a destination for tourists, is closely tied to what is needed to make it a destination for people wanting to open a business or raise a family, or special place to enjoy retirement.
If a community is going to harness the Route 66 renaissance as a catalyst for development, the first step is realization that, as Bill Thomas of Atlanta, Illinois is fond of saying, not all economic development is tourism but all tourism is economic development. You might think that this is obvious, especially in communities along Route 66 in the southwest. Surprisingly, however, numerous municipalities seem to be blissfully unaware of the legions of French, German, Chinese, Australian, Italian, Dutch, British, and Japanese travelers that fill their restaurants, shop in their supermarkets, or spend the evening in their motels. In communities such as these, tourism and economic development are often viewed as separate components. More often than not, in these towns tourism is poorly staffed, poorly funded, and on occasion, usually consists of little more than a dusty museum staffed by elderly volunteers.
Within Route 66 communities that grasp the potential represented by the international fascination that has transformed the highway into a destination, overreaction is quite common. They invest heavily to transform the town into a caricature, an imitation of something from Disneyland or the movie Cars.
To continue with the gold rush analogy, visions of easy riches distort the reality. The cornerstone of the Route 66 renaissance is the quest for an authentic American experience, or at least one that meets the romanticized image of what that experience should be.
This is not to be confused with a realistic experience, an opportunity to relive the Route 66 of the Dust Bowl era by traveling across the Mojave Desert in an overloaded, wore out, cut down Hudson sedan.
A Czech tour group at Mr. D’z.
Using the Route 66 renaissance as a means for paving the streets with gold isn’t a complicated procedure. It becomes even easier if that community is nestled in the vast Technicolor landscapes of the American southwest. Credit for launching the rather dramatic transformation of Pontiac, Illinois, a town that has experienced six consecutive years of increased tourism, as well as the establishment of countless new businesses, is given to a retiree who would greet visitors with a roll of red carpet. In Galena, Kansas, a town of less than 4,000 people, it began with four women, a condemned service station, free bottled water, and a dream. Today, a town that recently had one functioning street light along the Route 66 corridor, has new restaurants, new sidewalks, new streetlights, pocket parks, and even a new state of the art medical center.The transformation of Seligman, and even the birth of the Route 66 renaissance is credited to a barber. Leadership, vision, outside of the box thinking, utilizing assets on hand, be they people, scenery, or history, and a willingness to seize opportunity can transform a community from a stop into a destination. Transforming a community into a destination ensures a future bright with promise.Will your community forever be a stop on the way to somewhere else, or will it become a destination?