This has been a strange year for our Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway program as it has been for all of America and the world. COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt about mid-March. Quarantines, limited travel, closed borders, and everyone was to stay home. Restaurants were closed to dine-in and many struggled to make ends meet as they shifted to carry out and/or delivery. Museums and other attractions closed. Hotels became ghost towns.
In Iowa, the tourist season is usually just ramping up in the spring. Attractions begin preparing their grounds and sprucing things up for visitors. There is excitement in the air as Iowa’s tourist season in any other year spikes in July. This year, we are told to social distance and many events are canceled or postponed until fall or until 2021. Some attractions are using this COVID-19 time to do a deep cleaning, reorganizing, or work larger outdoor projects that are usually inhibited by visitors and their anticipated visitor experience.
One of Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway’s roles is to help promote sites and attractions. How do we do that when many are mandated to be closed or owners are unsure if it is “safe” to open once the mandates are lifted? One way we have found is through social media posts. At first, there was nothing to report on as no one was going anywhere and no one was doing anything. So we shared past photos of attractions and outdoor attractions where people could social distance.
Our interpretive panels are something people can still enjoy while social-distancing. They are outdoors and nothing needs to be touched to read them to enjoy the information and photos. There are no door handles, no person behind the counter, and social-distancing can be accommodated easily.
What about events? The Iowa Department of Transportation Iowa Byways program decided not to participate with a booth at the Iowa State Fair this year, but now even the fair has been canceled. The Heartland Byway Conference was postponed until October of this year. The way things are looking, that might not happen either. But meetings do need to continue and many are being held virtually. In early June, we attended the Preserve Iowa Summit virtually. All of the sessions were held via ZOOM and recorded. There is a window of time where attendees can re-watch any of the sessions. We anticipate there will more of these types of summits and conferences in the future.
The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway is researching and creating innovative ways to continue our mission to educate the public about this historic road, showcase the route, and support our attractions. Stay tuned. We are in this for the long haul!
Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator Janice Gammon