(May 16) Ribbons were cut on historic Route 66’s new eastern entry this past week. Marking the entry, a new rest area and information kiosk for travelers, was added to the historic byway. Construction of the facility is credited to the Needles Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the City of Needles. Dignitaries and honored guest cutting the ribbon and a cake in celebration included Dr. Edward Paget, Mayor of Needles, Mike Ahrens, BLM Needles Field Manager, Teri Raml, BLM California Desert District Manager and Randy Banis, BLM’s Desert Advisory Council Chairman. Approximately 35 people, many who were participating in the BLM’s Desert Advisory Council meeting held in Needles on Friday and Saturday May 9 and 10, were in attendance.
While the rest area does not yet include “rest rooms” it does feature a covered sitting area and informational kiosk including a map of the route, location data and points of interest along the way. The hallmark of the facility is the welded metal sculpture of the Route 66 iconic logo displayed at the pinnacle of the cover.
It is located at the “5 Mile Road” exit (Exit 148) of Interstate 40 (I-40) between Needles and Park Moabi. Though a section of the original Route 66 alignment exists nearer the bridge at the Colorado River, the section between it and the new rest stop was paved over by I-40. The 5 Mile Road exit of the I-40 is a suitable location for a start point to tour Route 66 westward. West of the rest stop, Route 66 follows the historic alignment and is a two-lane road.
The Desert Advisory Council joined in the ribbon cutting as part of a scheduled field tour of a portion of Route 66. A Corridor Management Plan for Route 66 between Needles and Barstow is currently underway. Lardner-Klein Landscape Architects, the contractor preparing the CMP, will host the webcasts, which will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon (Pacific Daylight Time) on May 22, 2014 to address the topic of “Visitor Experience,” on August 28, 2014 to address the topic of “Transportation” and on October 23, 2014 to address the topic of “Marketing and Heritage Tourism Development” regarding the CMP. Route 66’s Intrinsic Qualities and their Stewardship were addressed on April 28, 2014.
Members of the public participating in the District Advisory Council meeting held on May 9-10 were also treated to cake in celebration of the rest area opening while visiting with government employees who participated in the construction of the facility. The District Advisory Council advises the BLM’s California Desert District management on issues important to the public including new applications for use of public land.
District Manager Raml informed the Sentinel that she “was busting with pride over the accomplishments of the Needles Field Office. With limited resources, these dedicated employees used their ingenuity and $3000 to construct a useful and attractive facility to serve all of the people. I hope that the visiting public can appreciate it and that they will treat it with respect.”
With reference to the very limited federal funding applied to this project, it should be noted that the lands managed by the BLM amounts to a major presence in San Bernardino County. As a subagency of the United States Department of the Interior it administers 247,300,000 acres of American Public land. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States outside of Alaska. The predominant acreage within the 20,105 square mile confines of San Bernardino County is desert, specifically the Mojave Desert. The major landowner in the Mojave Desert is the BLM.
Whereas it was once said that “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation” it is at least as true that “As the BLM goes, so goes a major portion of San Bernardino County.”
In this way, the funding crunch for the BLM has a major impact on the quality of the environment, and life, in the place we call home.
Unlike the National Park Service, BLM operations including employee salaries are typically funded by project proponent payments of application fees and rent for use of public lands for private projects. The reality is that the BLM must process land use applications or some of their costs including employee salaries go unpaid. Staff cut backs, layoffs due to reductions in funding are not uncommon.
Traditionally, it has been a characteristic of BLM employees to be dedicated—they desire to serve the public well. In the case of the lack luster funding for the rest area, the BLM employees have taken up the slack. Any appearance of inability to steward an important asset like Route 66 or other public lands and facilities could be used as ammunition to argue for privatization which would leave the public out of the loop on how an asset is used.
One can see such scenarios clearly repeated in the public sector on the local level…the public pays for an asset, a failure is caused by lack of resources or funding to maintain the asset, blame for the failure is placed on the agency in control, control/ownership is sold to privatize the asset. When a Congress is set on privatizing public assets, what we might expect to see is a refusal to properly fund agency management thus causing failure, blaming the failure on the agency, then using that failure as an excuse to privatizing the property.
Congress needs to fund the maintenance of Route 66 and improve its safety. The historic byway is scenic and a cultural treasure–a resource that deserves the careful scrutiny of public participation in its future use not only to guarantee its availability for public enjoyment but also as a very necessary public emergency transportation route out of southern California. That being said, the road is best in the hands of a public agency that allows for private concessions and entrepreneurial involvement. The BLM is such an agency. The paltry amount allowed for the new rest stop is an example of where priorities in federal funding need to be revisited and revised.
On the other hand, those employees involved in the construction of the helpful safety rest stop at 5 Mile Road deserve credit for what they accomplished on such a small budget, their careful planning and conservative use of public funds.