“Route 66 was completely paved in Missouri as of January 5, 1931. The final section of pavement was just east of the Pulaski County line, near Arlington. Workers tossed coins in the wet cement to celebrate. A few weeks later, thousands of people turned out in Rolla for a huge parade and celebration to mark the occasion.” Author Joe Sonderman, A Bit of Missouri 66 History. In Quapaw, Oklahoma, on March 24, 1933, to celebrate completion of Route 66 paving between Commerce, Oklahoma and Baxter Springs, Kansas there was a major celebration that included Quapaw chief Victor Griffin laying a commemorative zinc tablet in the middle of Main Street.
There was a time when communities large and small celebrated their association with Route 66. Most communities along that highways corridor were quick to recognize, especially during the dark days of the Great Depression, that US 66 offered tremendous economic opportunity. Even though the highway no longer officially exists, Route 66 is more popular today than at any time in its history. Surprisingly, unlike in times past, only a few communities between Chicago and Santa Monica see the highway as an economic boon. Many will go through the motions of harnessing the highways popularity as a catalyst for economic development and historic district revitalization. Few, however, develop promotion, marketing, and related initiatives to fully capitalize on the potential represented by Route 66 tourism. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
In all communities grassroots initiatives that are well informed, passionate, and are able to put aside egos to build cooperative partnerships are invaluable. In communities with tourism departments shackled by apathy, a lack of vision or ambition, and entrenched cronyism, these grassroots initiatives are the key to the harnessing of tourism as a contributor to economic development. In a nut shell providing the information and tools needed to build effective grassroots initiatives in a community were the reason I developed tourism/hospitality classes for Mohave Community College in Kingman, Arizona. This is also why I developed a condensed version of the classes that are being offered in the form of a presentation.
Examples of how to build effective grassroots initiatives are some of the projects developed and launched in Kingman. One of these was the Kingman Promotional Initiative. It is a relatively simple concept but it was initially hampered by the apathy that has plagued tourism development for years and as a result attendance was anemic. Once a month the initiative hosts an informal meeting. Business owners are invited as are city officials, event organizers, members of the arts community, and anyone interested in helping build cooperative partnerships in the company as well as representatives from, Kingman Main Street, and the state and Kingman Route 66 associations. The goal is simple, foster awareness.
To date there have been an array of positive results. An informational kiosk in the business district that stood empty for more than two years was transformed by Kingman Main Street. The Route 66 Association of Kingman working with a few business owners and the organizers of Chillin’ on Beale have hosted receptions for numerous groups and individuals including the first European Route 66 Tour as well as Marian Pavel of Touch Media, the company that has developed the Route 66 Navigation app and the Mother Road Route 66 Passport. Public arts programs such as murals have fueled the historic district renaissance. Meetings with project developers and tour company owners have enhanced Kingman’s reputation as a destination rather than just a stop. Few of these projects received any support or participation from the tourism office.
Sadly, as happens often, this has not fostered a better working relationship with the tourism office. However, this too can be overcome through the success of grassroots initiatives and cooperative partnerships within the community and along the Route 66 corridor. The Route 66 centennial and the potential this represents should be given consideration as well as incentive for launching an effective grassroots initiative in your community.
Curious? Do you have interest in seeing your community transformed? Perhaps my presentation is just what the doctor ordered. After all, Route 66 is paved with gold.