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Route 66 suggested for country’s next National Historic Trail

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Photo by Rachel Knickmayer.

On the heels of a bill intended to preserve Route 66 comes another piece of legislation that would secure National Historic Trail status for Route 66 and that would theoretically help preserve and rejuvenate the Mother Road.

H.R. 801, which Representative Darin LaHood of Illinois introduced earlier this month, would amend the National Trails System Act of 1968 to include Route 66 as the country’s 20th National Historic Trail. According to a statement LaHood released regarding the bill, “It is time it receives the national recognition it deserves. Designating Route 66 as a National Historic Trail would provide this highway with a permanent program to preserve, promote, and economically develop it.”

The only current federal support for Route 66, which was decommissioned in 1985, comes from the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, which distributes about $100,000 per year to local or state Route 66 preservation projects. However, the program, which began in 2009, is set to end in 2019, with little possibility for renewal, according to Bill Thomas, president of the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative.

“Having it designated as a National Historic Trail would provide a forever designation and continued ongoing federal focus,” Thomas said.

In addition, as Ron Warnick of Route 66 News wrote five years ago, National Historic Trail designation would provide consistent signage along the road as well as more signage directing travelers to Route 66. Better signage and more travelers would in turn boost business along Route 66, which would then provide for greater preservation opportunities.

According to the National Trails System Act of 1968, only an act of Congress can create new Historic Trail designations, and a trail must meet three criteria to qualify for the designation:

(A) It must be a trail or route established by historic use and must be historically significant as a result of that use. The route need not currently exist as a discernible trail to qualify, but its location must be sufficiently known to permit evaluation of public recreation and historical interest potential. A designated trail should generally accurately follow the historic route, but may deviate somewhat on occasion of necessity to avoid difficult routing through subsequent development, or to provide some route variations offering a more pleasurable recreational experience. Such deviations shall be so noted on site. Trail segments no longer possible to travel by trail due to subsequent development as motorized transportation routes may be designated and marked onsite as segments which link to the historic trail.

(B) It must be of national significance with respect to any of several broad facets of American history, such as trade and commerce, exploration, migration and settlement, or military campaigns. To qualify as nationally significant, historic use of the trail must have had a far reaching effect on broad patterns of American culture. Trails significant in the history of native Americans may be included.

(C) It must have significant potential for public recreational use or historical interest based on historic interpretation and appreciation. The potential for such use is generally greater along roadless segments developed as historic trails and at historic sites associated with the trail. The presence of recreation potential not related to historic appreciation is not sufficient justification for designation under this category.

Warnick pointed out that an early 1990s study of Route 66 determined that the road qualified for Historic Trail status, and as a result that study should streamline the designation process.

Among the existing 19 National Historic Trails, all but two – the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail – commemorate routes originally traversed before the 20th century.

H.R. 801 has since been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. H.R. 66, introduced in January, remains in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.