The grassroots effort lead by Miami resident Gale Black is now underway toward the goal of preservation of the remaining portion of old Route 66 in Ottawa County.

MIAMI – The meeting drew great interest the same as the Mother Road, Route 66 still does today. The crowd in attendance at the Coleman Theatre Ballroom meeting on Aug. 30 agreed that all efforts should be made to preserve the historic roadway.

The grassroots effort lead by Miami resident Gale Black is now underway toward the goal of preservation of the remaining portion of old Route 66 in Ottawa County.

Kaisa Barthuli, Program Manager with the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program based in Sante Fe, New Mexico presented information and led the discussion.

“I just want to thank Gale Black for his advocacy for the Ribbon Road,” Barthuli said. “I got a call from Gale last fall, and to hear his voice and his passion, we said let's get together and let's start talking.”

The meeting was well attended by interested residents from Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, property owners along the old stretch of Route 66, County and City and State officials, and representatives from historical preservation organizations, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and the Lincoln County Association.

Barthuli first explained why the roadway is significant to Oklahoma and American transportation history that continues to receive national and international recognition. She said Route 66 plays a big part in tourism's economic impact on the state, county, and city.

“This is a unique section of Route 66,” she said. “There's no other section like it on the Historic Route 66. What you have here is a really precious resource.”

The piece of Route 66 roadway remaining in Ottawa County is part of one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, and became one of the most famous roads in the United States. The original highway ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles.

The nine feet wide roadway was built with a five-inch thick concrete base and two inches of asphalt. A banked curve was added to avoid vehicles from skidding off at the turn.

Gravel has been applied to the old roadway since 1985 for maintenance purposes.

The Miami section of Old Route 66 was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1999.

To drive home the importance of Route 66, Barthuli said she googled the phrase, “Miami Oklahoma Ribbon Road” garnering 3 million results, and Googled "Miami Oklahoma nine foot highway,” which garnered 54 million results when searched.

“This shows that this road is out there and people know it and love it,” Barthuli said. “I thought this was pretty extraordinary.”

Residents and land owners shared many personal stories and experiences linked to the road.

“As my husband, Rob Gilbert says, 'This is where our industry is. This is where we get our tax money,'” Ann Gilbert, of Miami, said. “I think anything we can do to make us a Route 66 community is good. To me, this is very, very important.”

Barthuli told of one town able to raise tax revenues by 42 percent by enhancing Route 66 tourism opportunities.

“When we started restoring this theatre (Coleman Theatre), I'm not sure we couldn't have done this if it hadn't been for Route 66,” lifelong Miamian Jane Osborn said.

A Traveler Survey conducted in 2012 regarding Route 66 of 4,200 respondents found that tourists came to the roadway from 50 states and 40 foreign countries. The tourists listed were seeking historic sites and monuments, notable places and landmarks, landscapes, small towns, U.S. history, and National Parks as their reasons for traveling the old route.

“How many of those does the road check off – it checks off every single one of those. The median population of communities in the study was 8,000, yet many see up to six figure visitation,” Barthuli said.

85 percent of Old Route 66 travelers visit historical places and museums and spend conservatively $38 million a year in these communities.

On a national level, the tourism impact is tremendous, according to Barthuli of $282 million in overall economic output, $127 million in wealth creation, and $37 million in public tax revenue.

“While these sums are clearly important in their own right, it is on the local level that Route 66 economic activities have their greatest impact,” Barthuli cited from the survey's conclusion. “As documented time and time again, the restored Route-66 themed motel, restaurant, and gift shop anchor the downtown in many small communities and bring new life and revenue to towns once bypassed by the Interstate Highway System.”

Property owner Butch Gaines who lives along the old section of Route 66 outside of Miami said he and his wife often give impromptu tours and directions. He said he would like to see the roadway restored and tourism developed.

“We've met people from all over the world, Japan, France, who come through,” Gaines said. “Many of them are on motorcycles or with tour groups. We met a man from Japan who was walking the entire Route 66 old road...It's just unbelievable the people that you meet on that road coming through.”

Barthuli recommended pulling together a Historic Structure Review to document the history, development, and construction of the Ottawa County portions of old Route 66. The review should include a condition assessment, and best practices plan for authentic restoration and preservation of the roadway with management options and associated costs.

“There's tremendous opportunity for these small communities such as Miami and Afton to take advantage of these historic places,” Barthuli said.

Barthuli said all goals for the roadway should take into consideration the many uses of the old highway including local access, farming, tourism, cyclists, bicyclists, and walkers.

A Historic Structure Review can also be used for an archival record, a tool for decision makers, managers, the community and for applying for grants and fundraising.

Barthuli gave several ideas and explained opportunities for a range of funding possibilities.

Black who instigated the meeting said he is anxious to see real efforts begun and the old road restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy. He wants area businesses along the highway who benefit from the tourism traffic to help and all those interested and vested to get involved in planning and fundraising.

“I'm very happy for this, it will be great for the city, the county, and Oklahoma,” Black said at the conclusion of the meeting. “I thought today was wonderful and I'm enthused by the interest. I don't want to see things stop here. I want it to increase because it's going to be so beneficial to Ottawa County and Miami.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.