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Get your kicks on Route 66 Tourism on historic route nourishes local economies


By Lindsey Morehead D


awn Welch bought The Rock Café in Stroud because she thought it had potential. Unfortunately, it had no customers. “I used to have to beg people to come in,” Welch recalls. “I’d say, ‘I’ll buy your meal if you don’t think it’s good.’”


Today, the café in the Grand River Dam Authority has a daily deluge of Route 66 travelers, many coming to see Welch herself, who inspired the spir- ited Sally Carrera character in Pixar’s animated “Cars” movies. “Millions of tourists visit communities along Route 66 every year,” Welch says. “Economically, it’s good for the whole road.”


Route 66 enthusiasts have long claimed a connection between heritage tourism and local economies, but many couldn’t quantify it—until now. A newly released economic impact study by Rutgers University and the National Park Service determined the annual investment in Route 66 to be about $132 million, including $38 million spent by tourists. “I rallied for years for the city and everyone to recognize the value of Route 66,” Welch says. “I said, ‘You don’t know what you have here.’ Back then no one saw it as a bonus, but now they do.”


That Jack Kerouac thing “People come to Route 66 looking for the authentic America, warts and all,” explains Michael Wallis, a Tulsa resident and premier Route 66 histo- rian. “They don’t just want to go to Disneyland or someplace predictable. They want to go where Billy the Kid once rode, where Lewis and Clark once tread and where Pretty Boy (Floyd) escaped.”


Wallis, who penned Route 66: The Mother Road and was the voice of the Sheriff in the “Cars” movies, says Oklahoma is well positioned to cash in on Route 66 tourism.


“Oklahoma has more drivable miles than any other state—almost 410,” Wallis says. “Investing in Route 66 just makes sense. It puts vehicular traffi c in your state, in your county and in your town.”


Arcadia Mayor Marilyn Murrell says the 300-person town is working to capitalize on the 750,000 tourists who annually visit POPS, a local conve- nience store featuring 600 varieties of bottled soda and a diner-style restau- rant. “Our whole economy is based on tourism,” Murrell says. “Route 66 was the start of it, then the Round Barn was restored in the early 1990s, and POPS opened in 2007.” In its fi rst year of operation, POPS boosted Arcadia’s sales tax revenue by $60,000, according to Rutgers’ research.


“We keep a guest book at the front, and we’ve seen people from as far away


as any of the Scandinavian countries, and we’ve seen many from Europe, Asia and Australia,” says POPS General Manager Marty Doepke. “People don’t realize how popular Route 66 really is across the ocean.” In the fi rst comprehensive Route 66 traveler survey, Rutgers determined 85 percent of Route 66 travelers are from the U.S. and 15 percent come from abroad.


“I think so much of what people are looking for on Route 66 is that nos- talgic experience,” says Katie McLaughlin Friddle, executive director of Pres- ervation Oklahoma Inc. “They want to have that whole feel of what it was like in Route 66’s heyday.”


400 miles of Route 66 in Oklahoma Graphic courtesy of TravelOk.com MAY 2012 17


The nation’s longest driveable stretch


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