Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 25 September 2012 13:51
About 40 people gathered about a mile west of Durham Sunday afternoon for the dedication of what is believed to be the nation’s first “family of signs” project marking the Santa Fe National Historical Trail across an entire county.
Meeting at the Cottonwood Crossing site along 290th, the gathering heard about the project from host Steven Schmidt, president of the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association, leaders of the national SFTA organization and representatives from the National Park Service.
Aaron Mahr, superintendent of the National Historic Trails program, which is administered by the National Park Service, said the sign project has made the Cottonwood Crossing site “the premiere site on the trail.”
The project, in the works locally since 2003, includes:
• crossing signs that mark locations where the Santa Fe Trail intersects with current country roads;
• local tour route signs designating a driving tour across Marion County that takes travelers to 20 sites of historic interest related to the trail.
• site identification signs identifying two interpretative displays along the trail: the Cottonwood Crossing site near Durham and the Lost Spring station 2.5 miles west of the Lost Springs community.
• a historic site name sign located along U.S. Highway 56 on the Marion/McPherson county line adjacent to the stone marker commemorating the Santa Fe and Chisholm trails.
The local project moved ahead slowly at first, Schmidt said.
“Getting a family of signs that are acceptable to the departments of transportations of all states and all project partners, and providing a funding mechanism, proved to be a formidable task that took some time to achieve,” he said.
In 2009, the local chapter installed crossing signs at all locations where the trail crossed country roads, and in 2011 the chapter installed the majority of all the local tour route signs.
Soon after Mahr was appointed to his current position, he promised Schmidt that the entire project would be completed—in time.
“His word was good, and the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter sincerely appreciates his efforts and the efforts of his staff to make the Marion County sign project a reality,” Schmidt said.
Funds for materials and technical support have been provided by the National Park Service. The Santa Fe Trail Association has been “the boots on the ground,” Schmidt said, by doing local research and providing volunteer labor.
Steve Burns, a member of the sign-project design and development team, said the Marion County sign project is important because it is the first of its kind to be completed, and serves as a model for other locations along the trail.
More important, he added, the project is significant for all Americans interested in the historic trail. Burns said million-dollar visitors centers are nice, but the sign project “is more important and more effective” than a visitors center because it enables people to interact with the trail itself—and costs significantly less money.
“Here you get to experience the trail, feel the wind, and know this is where pioneer travelers passed through,” Burns said.
Also participating in the program were Roger Slusher, Santa Fe Trail Association president from Lexington, Mo., and Joanne VanCoevern, SFTA manager from Salina.
Both speakers praised the initiative of the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter and the volunteer labor it has provided to make the project come to pass.
Schmidt affirmed Marion County commissioners for their support of the sign project, as well as the development a few years earlier of the information kiosk at the Cottonwood Crossing.
“In addition to informing the public about the history of the Santa Fe Trail, we believe—in fact, we know—the sign project contributes to the economic goals of the county by attracting tourist dollars to Marion County,” he said.