A bill introduced earlier this year in Congress designating Route 66 as a historic trail is being pushed by Mother Road enthusiasts and lawmakers to help preserve the iconic roadway.
It also has the support of area historians and owners of tourist stops who say the road deserves protection.
The House Natural Resources subcommittee heard the bipartisan Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act on Nov. 15. Introduced by Subcommittee on Federal Lands Vice Chairman Darin LaHood, R-Ill., the bill designates the 2,400-mile length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, as the Route 66 National Historic Trail.
Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 as part of the first federal highway system and holds historical value to the eight states and communities through which it passes.
“The federal government already recognizes the importance of Route 66,” LaHood said in a news release. “My legislation, HR 801, is simple and straightforward, and improves upon current efforts. If signed into law, it will designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail ensuring that the National Park Service will have the authority to assist and support states and local communities in preserving, promoting and economically developing Route 66 for generations to come.”
Bill Thomas, chairman of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, told the committee that the road, sometimes called the Mother Road, has an important place in 20th-century U.S. history.
"In the 1920s, it exemplified freedom and movement," Thomas said after the hearing. "In the 1940s, it was the primary military convoy to ship troops, and it became the destination for everyone's favorite two-week vacation."
Route 66 enthusiasts in the area also agree with the bill and the protection of the Mother Road due to the park service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program expiring in 2019 under the current administration.
In 1999, Congress established the corridor program, which is overseen by the park service and offers cost-share grants and technical assistance. Original legislation was only meant to last a decade but was extended for an additional 10 years in 2009 because of the public’s growing interest in the program.
Deborah Harvey is a co-owner of the historic Boots Court Motel in Carthage along Route 66 and a preservationist. The motel, originally built in 1939 by Arthur Boots, was acquired in 2012 by Harvey and her sister, Priscilla Bledsaw, who restored the building to its 1949 look.
Through the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, the sisters were able to restore the flat roof design and the original green neon wiring wrapped around the building with matching grants.
Harvey is in support of the legislation but said the impact of the park service will be “light” and believes certain aspects need to be considered. For example, the bill discusses “land acquisitions,” which states that the United States can’t acquire any land outside of the managed area without consent from the owner or land that extends more than an average of a quarter-mile on either side of the trail.
“They (the park service) only make improvements where the federal government owns property, so everything that’s privately owned or owned by the state won’t be subject to their modifications,” Harvey said. “It also won’t be subject to their maintenance.”
In turn, Harvey said, the federal government wouldn’t have jurisdiction over certain areas along the route.
“Anyone along Route 66 who owns their own building, the federal government would not have jurisdiction over their properties. It doesn’t really protect the properties along Route 66. People actually have to do that, and cities have to designate historic districts in order to protect those properties.”
Along Route 66 in Northeast Oklahoma runs Ribbon Road, also known as Sidewalk Highway, which was completed in 1922 as Federal Highway Project No. 8. The 15.46-mile roadway stretches from Miami to Afton and gives visitors the opportunity to travel a road older than Route 66. Ribbon Road was later added as part of the original Route 66 completed in 1926 and is now maintained by the county.
Dobson Museum Director Jordan Boyd walked along the 9-foot-wide road while highlighting its influence and draw to the area. The road is located a mile from Narcissa and approximately 3 miles south of Miami.
“For a county road, this is a highly trafficked road, too, because there’s a lot of farmers and a lot of tourists come through here,” Boyd said. “It has quite a significance in American history and especially when the automobile started. It was about 1919 when they surfaced this, so you got the Model T’s and some of the early cars. People were starting to travel more distances. Then, the significance of when Route 66 came through this area, and this was the route that it took, it made a big impact on how people thought of travel and moving from place to place.”
Serving as the county representative on the state Route 66 board, Boyd said he supports the legislation to designate it as a national trail.
“I think it would be a great idea because to me, this sticks out as one thing in our county, in the state and the nation, that should be preserved because people come here so much already to see it,” Boyd said. “Route 66 means so much to so many people.”
The Associated Press contributed this report.