Editor's Note: This story was published June 9 and remains timely.
Neglect and commercial development have landed Route 66 on a list of the world's endangered landmarks.
The World Monuments Fund - a not-for-profit preservation group based in New York - added the historic route to its list of 100 most endangered historic, cultural and architectural sites worldwide for the first time this year.
The road joins such far-flung sites as Herschel Island in Arctic Canada; New Orleans; the St. Petersburg skyline in Russia; Old Damascus in Syria; The Salk Institute in California; Al Azhar Mosque in Morocco; and the Lima Historic City Center in Peru.
"It's something we do every two years. It's about cultural landscapes. Cultural sites are more than just the prettiest buildings. These are areas that represent a part of history, the way people use to live and what people use to care about," said Michelle Berenfeld, director of the watch program for the World Monuments Fund.
The World Monuments Fund was founded in 1965 and has released its biennial watch list since 1995.
Berenfeld said the U.S. Park Service nominated the route for the list in response to the gradual erosion of Route 66 landmarks, adding that it is especially challenging to preserve a route that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles in its heyday.
"Times change and people don't necessarily go there the way they used to. There's big development pressures, and some of these are in remote areas, where people would like to tear it down and build something else," said Berenfeld.
She added that the 100 Most Endangered list is a way to draw attention to historical and cultural sites that might otherwise disappear. Route 66 is listed under sites endangered by economic and development pressures.
Illinois sections of Route 66 followed three major corridors between Chicago and East St. Louis from 1926 to 1977. The main routes through Springfield were along Second, Sixth and Ninth streets.
In the fall of 2005, the approximately 400 miles of road in Illinois were designated part of the national Scenic Byways network, and the state has heavily promoted tourism along some sections of the road.
The annual Route 66 International Mother Road Festival in Springfield, for instance, drew 75,000 visitors in its fifth year last September.
But landmarks from motels to sections of brick pavement are steadily disappearing, said Kaisa Bathuli, deputy program manager for the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program in Santa Fe, N.M.
The preservation program is a part of the National Park Service.
"We're talking about the motels, cafes, gas stations, trading posts and the actual roadbed itself," said Bathuli.
The federal program also funds preservation efforts, including most recently $20,000 in matching funds for restoration of the Palms Grill Cafe in the small community of Atlanta, in northern Logan County.
Bathuli said inclusion on the worldwide watch list should help boost preservation efforts along the road.
"When it's in your back yard, it's sometimes hard to see it as something really special to the world. The list brings a great deal of attention and awareness to some of the world's priceless resources," she said.
Berenfeld said the watch list is updated with new entries every two years.
This year's list also includes for the first time sites endangered by global climate change, including historic neighborhoods of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
But she said the primary purpose of the list is to encourage local efforts to save historical and cultural landmarks.
"In certain cases, it leads to something as simple as letting people know it's there. Especially with something like Route 66, if you don't do something, we could lose it eventually," she said.
The organization Web site is www.wmf.org.