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Route 66 News

State of the road in Illinois

Using the upcoming Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Weekend as a jumping-off point, the Bloomington Pantagraph takes a look at the current state of the Mother Road in the Land of Lincoln.

And despite current problems like a faltering economy and high fuel prices, the future of Route 66 looks bright.

“International travelers come from 40 something countries during peak traveling season,” said Ellie Alexander, head of the Pontiac Tourism Bureau and an organizer of the Second Annual Red Carpet Corridor Festival May 3-4. “We get countries I’ve never heard of. Oh, wow, it’s always amazing to me because they know more about Route 66 than most Americans do.”

“It is really romanticized pretty heavily in Europe because it’s seen as the American dream,” added Patty Ambrose, executive director of the Historic Illinois Route 66 America’s Byway.

About 300,000 visitors visited the Illinois portion of Route 66 in 2005, the last year an estimate was made, she said.

“It’s only grown (since then.) We are seeing increased visits. … Promotion is stronger,” she said.

The weak American dollar is attracting more foreign visitors, too, travel officials say.

Illinois tourism officials want Old Route 66 outlined on the map in even bolder colors, right up there with Lincoln. Lonely Planet, which publishes travel books, listed Route 66 as one of its top 10 driving destinations. The highway was the only one listed in the United States. […]

Ambrose said a grant is in the works for an interpretive plan to evaluate what remains of Route 66 and sites along the way to determine what can be saved and what is needed with regards to interpretive centers and signage to help travelers. Plans call for a Route 66 Bike Trail.

“I think we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I feel Route 66 will explode again. …We will see the mom and pop businesses come back and give an economic boost to these communities. I don’t think that’s pie in the sky. I think we will see that happen.”

Foreign travelers have been a crucial component to keeping Route 66 alive, and they will continue to be so.

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