After a two year hiatus courtesy COVID 19, the annual Route 66 Fun once again transformed almost 150 scenic miles of Route 66 in western Arizona into a lving time capsule. The Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, the hosting organization, hasn’t provided a tally as of yet but I am confident that more than 900 vehicles registered for the three day block party. And I would be willing to bet another 100 vehicles or so simply tagged along and joined the festivities.
But as much as I enjoy a road trip and seeing vintage vehicles on the road, the highlight of the Fun Run, or any Route 66 event, is the opportunity to visit with friends that are almost like family. This iconic old highway has an almost infectious magic that brings people together.
Hoisting a beer or two, and enjoying some good Mexican food, with our adopted family was the highlight of the weekend. It has been quite some time since we enjoyed conversation and laughs with George and Bonnie Game of the Canadian Route 66 Association, Dale Butel of Australia based Route 66 Tours, Rhys Martin of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, Dean Kennedy, and a multitude of old friends.
There are an array of annual events held along Route 66. Not all are car related. The largest Czech cultural festival in the world outside of the Czech Republic is held near Yukon, Oklahoma. But the Fun Run is unique as it is one of the oldest, and it is one of the largest.
But scheduled for this June is the AAA Route 66 Road Fest in Oklahoma. This exciting new event promises to be a game changer. It is a manfestation of how the state of Oklahoma is harnessing the international fascination with Route 66, and the fast approaching highways centennial, to build cooperative partnerships that are a catalyst for economic development and community revitalization.
For towns, villages and cities, Route 66 represents nearly unlimited opportunity to use tourism as a catalyst for economic development. These events are but example of an adage about community transformation. “If a town is transformed into a destination for visitors, it becomes a destination for people wanting to retire, to open a business, to retire, and to live.”
There was a silver lining to the COVID 19 induced apocalypse. Communities that had not given tourism much thought now see its value. But, surprisingly, not all of these towns along the highway corridor understand the unique nature of Route 66. And even fewer have the leadership needed to build cooperative partnerships.
There are manifestations of how Route 66 can be tapped into for economic development or successful event creation. The Fun Run is an example.
Likewise, in communities large and small there are manifestations of missed opportunity. These are often the result of narrow thinking, an inability to build cooperative partnerships, or a lack of knowledge about the Route 66 community. A long empty kiosk at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona is an example.
But in communities such as this, passionate grassroots initiatives can fill or bridge the void. And they will transform a community in the process.
Kingman Main Street is finalizing phase one of a self guided narrated historic district walking tour that will dramatically enhance foot traffic. But the most valuable contribution made with this project is the development of cooperative partnerships, even with the city of Kingman.
Curious about how to transform you community into a destination? I am currently booking speaking engagements for the fall tour. Contact me for details.