The board of Will County, Ill., recently approved a new marketing plan for a long-overlooked section of Route 66 from Joliet to Braidwood, reported the Southtown Star.
The newspaper said:
There is an “untapped tourism potential” here, and tying all these natural, recreational and historical amenities together is historic Route 66, said project consultant Ferhat Zerin, of Gingko Planning and Design.
“Thousands of people drive here, but do not stop,” she said, as she presented the completed plan to the County Board. Many other towns along historic Route 66 which stretches all the way to California — have capitalized on this theme.
The goal is to encourage tourists to spend a day or two here, visiting the Joliet Splash Park, the Jackhammers, Route 66 Raceway, the historic sites, trails, parks, farms and restaurants.
The plan includes forming a tourism advisory council of city officials, business owners and venue operators, with funding the plan through grants, donations, transportation taxes and fees.
Among the plans to market Route 66 in the region:
- Adding signs along Interstate 80, Interstate 57 and Route 66 to direct drivers to destinations, plus murals on railroad overpasses.
- A specific identity and brand name tying Route 66 and Will County.
- Connecting existing bicycle trails, plus new trails along Route 53, aka Route 66.
- Adding features at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie such as an observation tower and a 1,200-acre bison grazing area.
- Implementing Wilmington’s vision for Island City, which includes a kayak course.
- Creating more iconic Route 66-themed photo ops.
- More events, such as classic car nights, a Route 66 bicycle race, fishing tournament, and festivals.
- Developing more hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to encourage overnight stays.
This story is yet another sign that Route 66 tourism has met a sea change in recent years that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The Chicago area, which long has treated Route 66 tourism with mild interest or indifference, seems to be coming around. The 2006 release of the Disney-Pixar film “Cars” seems to have lit the fuse, and the Route 66 Economic Impact Report in late 2011 has led many officials to take a much harder and longer look at Route 66 tourism.