Leading preservation group invites public to 'Get its kicks on Route 66' with campaign to secure federal historic designation

BAXTER SPRINGS - No other highway in the country captures the spirt of American freedom quite like 'The Mother Road'. Rightfully dubbed the "Main Street of America", Route 66 has provided a vital transportation pathway connecting the Midwest with southern California since the 1920's. All along the route small communities boomed and continue to thrive to this day thanks to the thousands of travelers and '66ers from all over the world who pass through each year.

Though Kansas notoriously has the shortest stretch of the highway out of the eight states that she winds through, the impact of Route 66 on the communities in Cherokee County is insurmountable.

On July 2, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Route 66 to its National Treasures portfolio and announced plans to pursue National Historic Trail status for one of "America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places." The centerpiece of the campaign is a month-long road trip to help preserve the highway. During the road trip, the organization will share the stories of historic sites along Route 66 and build support for the National Historic Trail designation. The epic tour includes stops in both Galena and Baxter Springs, as it makes its way west.

"Driving Route 66 is the quintessential American road trip," said Amy Webb, senior field director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "It is the most iconic, culturally-celebrated, and internationally-recognized stretch of highway in America. By promoting this authentic experience, we can help preserve a beloved icon and at the same time, revive local economies in rural communities."

Commissioned from 1926-1985, it was the shortest, best-weather highway across the nation. A cross section of urban areas, panoramic scenery, tribal lands, and small rural towns, Route 66 travels more than 2,400 miles through eight states, three time zones, and over 300 communities that more than 5.5 million Americans call home.

The hundreds of communities along Route 66 contain historic places, idiosyncratic character and cultural relevance. The independent businesses, roadside architecture and kitschy roadside attractions that originally flourished along Route 66 have gradually diminished as travelers bypassed Route 66 for the Interstate, and continue to be threatened. A permanent National Historic Trail designation will bring greater public interest and investment to these communities, support the preservation of authentic Route 66 icons and encourage the economic revitalization of this living, evolving corridor of Americana.

The National Trust, with support from presenting sponsor State Farm, hit the road on July 2 for a month-long road trip that will travel the full length of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Through interactive storytelling and a full slate of roadside engagement events, supported by Airstream, Polaroid and Two Lanes by Mike Wolfe, this trip across the country will build support for the historic trail designation and offer a passenger-side view of the people, places, and stories that make it an icon of the American landscape. To see the road trip’s itinerary and support Route 66, visit www.preserveroute66.org.

In tandem with the road trip, the National Trust will work with the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership to reach out to organizations, businesses, local governments, and individuals across Route 66 to provide more information about National Historic Trails and what the designation could offer. National Historic Trails are nationally significant historical travel routes that are designated by Congress. There are currently 19 National Historic Trails including the Santa Fe and Lewis and Clark Trails. This designation offers opportunities for federal assistance.

-- Jordan Zabel is the managing editor for the Cherokee County News-Advocate. He can be emailed at jzabel@sekvoice.com.