By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
While people may look at Route 66 as a nostalgic bygone, it’s actually a 2,500-mile-long economic corridor to the future.
Cities like Joplin and Galena, Kan., are learning to mine the historic route for attractions that result in development, much as they did lead and zinc before the highway arrived here.
That’s the view of Michael Wallis, historian, author and actor, and a member of the Route 66 Alliance, which is bringing the Route 66 International Festival to Joplin on Aug. 1-3. The festival is set around an annual meeting of eight state associations and the National Park Service to work on strategy for preserving and promoting the historic highway.
“That’s why this festival is important. Two words: economic development,” Wallis said Tuesday during a visit to Joplin to work on arrangements for the event.
The evidence can be seen as close as Galena, he said.
“Galena has come back to life,” he said. “For the Route 66 Alliance, that’s why we’ve chosen the town of Galena as our template, as our example city, of small town Route 66 rebuilding using local resources, government funding” and city leadership to help the former mining town reinvigorate its economic base through tourism.
In addition to tourism, alternative energy is being developed along the route, including wind farms and natural gas fueling stations. While the route is famous for its whimsical businesses such as themed motels and small diners, some chains are headed for the highway, Wallis said.
Wallis, of Tulsa, Okla., is the author of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and the voice of the sheriff in the animated movie “Cars.”
A tile mural that is to be installed on the side of the Pearl Bros. building as a tourism stop on Joplin’s share of Route 66 is an example of the type of attraction that brings travelers to stop during their trips on the route, Wallis said.
“I think the murals are such a great way to express a town, a city’s feeling, or their passion of this legacy of Route 66,” he said.
Tile muralist Paul Whitehill, of Joplin, is putting together the mural project. He is paying for the materials and installation with donations and partnerships. He told the Joplin City Council at a recent meeting that “everything is moving forward nicely,” and the mural installation is scheduled for the first week of July.
Donors to the project include Commerce Bank, the Joplin High School class of 1946, Lance and Sharon Beshore, and Murphysburg Preservation, Whitehill said. Joplin Supply Co. and Sherwin-Williams Co. have agreed to furnish supplies and workers to help with the project, he said. About $25,000 has been raised so far, and the cost of the project is $60,000, Whitehill said. He asked the city to make a donation.
City Manager Mark Rohr, with the support of the council, has agreed to the rebuilding of a small park area where the mural is to be located on the south side of the Pearl Bros. building. Architect Chad Greer was to speak to the Joplin Park Board on Tuesday about a design for the redevelopment of that park.
In addition to the unveiling of the mural in connection with the festival, there will be Route 66 artists, authors and collectors from across the country with exhibits or sales booths. They are to be set up in the Christman’s Event Center, 501 S Main St.
The Grass Roots band is to headline two nights of concerts in downtown Joplin.
Wallis said a special event is being planned for the 66 Drive-In Theatre near Carthage, but details could not be released yet.
MICHAEL WALLIS on the attraction of Route 66: “It’s not just nostalgia. It’s not just that at all. It’s much more.”