Looking over the emails and posts that trickled in from the recent “Route 66: The Road Ahead” roundtable, it seems the most newsworthy thing from it is a possible merger of the Route 66 Alliance and the National Historic Route 66 Federation.
A merger may take months of talks. Or it may not happen at all. But a consensus emerged at the meeting that the pressing issues of promoting and preserving Route 66 in the coming years would be better served under one national organization instead of two, while letting Route 66’s state associations keep their autonomy.
In a recent email, 66-to-Cali owner and Route 66 Alliance member Dan Rice said:
The most common theme at the roundtable and the conference itself was the need for a unified national body that can include the varied voices of all 8 states and present them in one common voice. […] What I can tell you is that the Alliance and Federation heard the discussion loud and clear and have already started discussing the potential and possibility of that merger. Many have come forward offering to support that effort and I’ve spent 24 hours of the last two days, (literally 9-9 both days) in phone conversations and emails to make sure every state is represented and has a voice. It’s been a whirlwind of positivity and pro-activity and amazing to witness.
In case you’re wondering about possibly a third national organization, that idea was swiftly dismissed and discarded.
Route 66 author Jim Hinckey, framing the issue of historic bridge preservation, wrote in a blog post:
A preservation project of this magnitude will not be accomplished by a single community, a divided entity, or a few spirited Route 66 enthusiasts. It will require a coordinated and unified sense of purpose from the Route 66 community if we are to emulate the preservation success of the Marsh Arch Bridge in Kansas, the Lake Overholser Bridge in Oklahoma, or the Colorado Bridge in Pasadena on a national level.
Hinckley posted several stories about the summit and ideas that came from it, by the way, and they’re worth perusing.
An Alliance / Federation merger looks like a great idea. The Alliance boasts a well-known and charismatic figure in Michael Wallis that any organization would be happy to land as a front man. But it hasn’t been in business long and is still trying to get its fundraising going.
The Federation boasts almost 20 years of history on the Mother Road, helped shepherd authorization of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and publishes several useful books for Route 66 travelers. However, executive director David Knudson scaled back his energies — including the International Route 66 Festival — since the declining health and death of his wife, Mary Lou.
A merger would largely reduce each organization’s weaknesses and bolster its strengths.
If the merger happens, I hope the new organization soon gives a cost-share grant or two to cement its credibility as a champion of Route 66 preservation. The Corridor Preservation Program does this at a bigger scale, but it never was meant to be permanent. If a new national Route 66 organization gradually takes over more of the program’s duties, it would greatly benefit itself and the road. In my opinion, the preservation angle — even at a modest financial level — is every bit as important as advocacy and publicity for the Mother Road.
As an aside, I was invited to the roundtable but was unable to attend because of a new job. I probably should have paid someone to file a story from the event, but didn’t think of it in time. C’est la vie.
(Image of brick Route 66 near Auburn, Ill., by Jim Grey via Flickr)