Supporters of Route 66, the iconic U.S. highway that carried travelers from Illinois to California, are pushing to have the roadway added to a national list of historic trails.
A group of advocates called the Route 66 Road Ahead are supporting legislation in the U.S. House seeking the designation. It would likely make the 2,400-mile road part of the National Park Service, which would provide signs and online resources to promote the highway.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for three years,” said Tommy Pike, the president of the Missouri Route 66 Association. “It’s to develop and promote Route 66.”
The bill was co-authored by Illinois Republican Rep. Darin LaHood, Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis and California Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano, whose districts contain segments of the highway. It is in the earliest legislative stages. Under the best possible scenario, it could become law around the end of this year.
Another bill, introduced by Davis, would require stakeholders in each state that contains part of Route 66 to organize a centennial celebration of the road in 2026. That bill also is in its earlier stages.
Route 66 would become only the second federally recognized trail whose historical significance dates to the 20th century, joining a 50-mile stretch of highway in Alabama that was the site of a civil rights protest in 1965. Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985.
Not all federally designated trails are administered by the National Park Service, The Joplin Globe reported. The park service has overseen a Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program that will end in 2019.
Aaron Mahr, a park service official who oversees parts of the National Trails system and the Corridor Preservation Program, said the designation would allow his office to expand its work on Route 66.
“It would go from a limited program to a long-term, perpetual program,” he said, which would raise its profile and bring “a consistent approach toward preservation and development.”
Funding for Route 66 work would be determined by the agency after a budget review that could take several years.
Mahr said the agency would try to balance the differences in the route’s various segments with creating a consistent tourist experience along the road.
“One of the things we’d be doing is developing a national logo for the road which would be used from Illinois to California,” he said. “We’d be developing roadwide interpretive experiences and driving guides to help people appreciate the trail. We’d be identifying those original areas along the road that have that iconic feel to them. And that would be done with the sense that this is a permanent fixture of American history.”
The National Trails System was established in 1968, when the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails were brought under the National Park Service. Since then, 19 trails have received the designation, including the path followed by the explorers Lewis and Clark and the traditional route of the Iditarod dogsled race.
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com
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