Route 66 fans, preservationists and area leaders met Wednesday at the historic Coleman Theatre in Miami, Oklahoma, to discuss ways to preserve an ancient stretch of Route 66 between Miami and Afton called the Sidewalk Highway or Ribbon Road.
The group emerged with a consensus to talk to the Ottawa County board of commissioners, which has jurisdiction over the road, according to a report in the Joplin Globe.
The road today mostly is covered with gravel to smooth potholes and washboarded sections. That keeps it from deteriorating faster, but it lacks aesthetics.
Kaisa Barthuli, manager for the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, presided over the meeting in collaboration with the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Attendees want to preserve and repair the 9-foot-wide Sidewalk Highway, built in 1922 shortly before U.S. 66 was certified, without compromising its unique characteristics.
In a story a few days ago from the Joplin Globe, a resident explained how the road needs help:
“Over the years, the road hasn’t been kept up because it is primarily used by farmers, so it’s a meeting to bring together community leadership to talk about where we go from here,” said Amanda Davis, executive director of the convention bureau. “It’s not in great shape, and we don’t want it to go away. We want to be able to promote it, and we use it as a hook for the international visitors who come in. It’s a little tricky because the road itself is not in city limits. It’s in county limits.”
The stretch of road also lacks signs to direct travelers and doesn’t have funding to help keep it well-maintained.
The Sidewalk Highway was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Barthuli explained how distinctive the stretch of road is:
“There’s no other section like this along the entire historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica,” Barthuli said. “It has maintained a high degree of integrity, workmanship, materials, construction and setting. It conveys a strong sense of historic environment, which means, it really hasn’t changed. It has a layer of gravel over it, but this is reversible.”
Others weighed in:
The president of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association, Renee Charles, said, “These visitors are not just coming to see spots in Oklahoma, Kansas or Missouri, they’re coming to see the whole road. We promote, in Kansas, the Ribbon Road, and we get asked where is this located and we show them. This section is not just important to the state of Oklahoma or to Miami or Afton, but to the family of Route 66. I agree that it needs to be restored.”
Before the meeting, the Miami News-Record interviewed local resident Gale Black:
“I’ve ridden the old road myself as a kid with my mom and dad and brother to Tulsa in an old truck,” Black said. “It was about six and a half to seven hours from Picher, but it was fun with us kids hanging in the back of the truck and going down that highway, singing and doing what kids do.”
Black has been in touch with several bordering land owners to the old road who have agreed to work together toward a plan to repair or preserve it. Black says the area has been well kept but needs a concerted and organized attempt for preservation to occur.
Another local weighed in KOAM-TV about the old road:
“It’s there the base is real good so it just needs to be updated..repaired” says Charm Gaines, who lives along Ribbon Road with her husband.
Some of the updates needing to be done is new pavement and a new paint job.
“My husband teases me that I’m doing tours. A lot of times we are late places because we have a lot of lost people there..they love to lay down on the on the old pavement and have us take this pictures” says Gaines.
In addition to cost-share grants from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, the road is eligible for other grants and tax credits because of its National Register status.
Here’s a video I shot nearly 10 years ago on the Sidewalk Highway near Afton. The raised, white edges of the road were clearly visible at the time.
The Sidewalk Highway also was part of an original Ozark Trail that predates Route 66. The Sidewalk Highway likely was so narrow because local money was used to build it, and highway officials wanted to stretch those dollars as far as they could.
Also, the road was built years before the federal government began to fund such projects.
UPDATE: Researcher Jerry McClanahan, who probably knows as much as anyone alive about the history of Route 66, wrote on Facebook today:
Going into this meeting Kaisa had plans to meet with the County Commissioners to discuss funding sources. She presented to us all a range of funding options available to the county and city entities, including the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and CIRB (County Improvement for Roads and Bridges) a revolving fund sourced from Motor vehicle taxes.
She also encouraged the local entities to apply for a grant from the 66 Corridor Program (which ends after 2019) for a “Historic Studies Report” covering the rare roadway. There is also the possibility of a “Cooperative Agreement” between the County and the NPS that does not require a competitive grant and is not cost sharing.
Also discussed were sources of possible funding for better signage, assuming they can be retained and not stolen.
Most everyone left this meeting, I think, with a clearer sense of the unique problems associated with preserving this unique pavement, and of the many measures that can be taken to obtain funds for this effort.
(Image of the Sidewalk Highway in 2007 near Miami, Oklahoma, by gsamx via Flickr)