What: Spirit of '63 Celebration

When and where: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tiger Park, 1301 Old Spanish Trail, adjacent to Reservoir #3, off of Navajo Dam Road. Also from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village, 125 N. Main Ave.

Cost: Tiger Park is free. Aztec Museum is 50 cents.

More info: Call the Aztec Visitor Center at 505-334-9551 or the Museum at 505-334-9829.

AZTEC — It's the people of a community who make the difference.

That difference will be the focus on Saturday when the city celebrates the 50th anniversary of a national civic honor for a community-built highway that provided a more direct route to Navajo Dam from Aztec.

To mark the occasion, the city will celebrate its civic pride on Saturday with an old-fashioned ice-cream social, presentations by local historian Marilu Waybourn and City Manager Josh Ray and an appearance by Aztec High School graduate and NASCAR driver Alex Kennedy.

And at the Aztec Museum, a complete history of the project will be on display with photographs of residents building the road, the women who pitched in and brought meals to workers and Gov. Jack Campbell and Aztec Mayor Cliff Collins at the opening celebration.

The exhibit also features memorabilia, letters, newspaper and magazine articles, a cablegram from President Lyndon Johnson, local poetry and a special tribute to Bonnie Walls, for whom a local rock formation is named in honor of efforts to complete the road.

"To remember who we were, who we are and who we can be matters," said Chris Duthie, a city tourism official. "When you consider the true grit and selfless energy it took to complete the road that the local commission turned down, all with donated time, materials, equipment, and labor, it's inspiring."

Over 3,000 volunteers from Aztec and San Juan County worked to complete the 19-mile, two-lane highway.

"All the state of New Mexico had to do was lay the asphalt," Duthie said.

Previously residents and tourists leaving from Aztec had to take a longer route through Bloomfield and Blanco by providing an almost straight shot from Aztec to Navajo Dam. The dam was a federally funded, $42 million project completed in January 1963.

Expected to take a year, the work was completed in less than four months and valued at $250,000.

The road's completion in 1963 and the can-do spirit that made it possible garnered the National Municipal League's All-America-City award, an honor motorists are reminded of when driving past commemorative signs near city limits.

"I hope everyone appreciates the meaning behind those green 'All-America City 1963' signs on the city's outskirts," said City Manager Josh Ray. "If not, we most definitely should. The National Civic League's award put an indelible red circle around one of the most important events in the history of Aztec. We should all be proud of and thankful for the monumental efforts and sacrifices made 50 years ago by this great community."

Aztec's history is a key to its success in the future, said Duthie.

"In the last five years, the look of this city has changed dramatically," he said. "People are taking notice, realizing the ongoing efforts here. Why can't we revel in the magnificent achievements of our city, past and present?"

Kennedy, who will bring his late-model racecar to Tiger Park Saturday for kids to climb in, grew up in Aztec and misses it when he is out of town competing in NASCAR races.

"I've been all over the country, and there's no place like Aztec," Kennedy said. "It's a community, not just a place to live."

James Fenton can be reached at jfenton@daily-times.com; 505-564-4621. Follow him on Twitter @fentondt.