Change needed through time

Times change. Needs change. What we do. What we think we know. All of that is always changing.

My great-great-grandfather farmed in Kansas while helping lay out and build some of the first section roads after the American Civil War.

He was in another county. But during that same time frame, Marion County built about 1,600 miles of roads. These roads were the old farm-to-city connecting routes that were deemed necessary for the economic well-being of the people.

Times and needs kept on changing.

My great-grandfather and my grandfather helped with neighborhood efforts to put in telephone lines while they farmed. Even in my father?s time when he farmed, he helped with neighbors on some efforts with telephone and electric lines.

Those telephone lines were strung on hedge tree poles along the roads when I was young.

My family had a crank, wooden-cased telephone until I was 14, when we were switched by the phone company to modern dial phones.

Now look at us. We have cell phones that don?t even require lines past our houses.

I?m 68 years old.

Every facet of our lives keeps on changing.

When I was small I was fascinated by my grandfather?s brother?s ability to hold one hand steady as a rock to roll a cigarette. In those days you could buy loose tobacco to roll in cigarette paper, then lick the edge of the paper to roll it over to seal up your cigarette ready to smoke.

Then my great uncle would hold that cigarette in his mouth while he used the same hand to strike a match, and light it. The hand would resume shaking with the rest of his body except when he withdrew the cigarette from his mouth to blow smoke.

He was a mustard-gas victim of World War I, forever handicapped by the Ger?mans he fought in trench warfare. Medical theory of the time was that smoking would help his lungs recover from the ravages of mustard gas.

Now we know differently. Times change. Needs change.

This leads us back to the time my great-great-grandfather was helping with 1,600 miles of roads in Marion County. It begs the question, do we need these roads like the people of that time did with their horse-drawn conveyances?

Are the taxpayers and county commissioners of this time just being burdened by outmoded needs, outmoded perspectives?

According to county figures, Marion County has about 132 miles of paved rural county roads, 745 miles of gravel roads that largely have that surfacing to allow people who live along them to travel, and 650 miles of dirt roads that are largely for the convenience of persons who farm along them or pasture animals there.

The county is further burdened with the upkeep and maintenance of bridges on these dirt roads if it doesn?t go through public referendum processes to abandon them.

There is an added burden imposed by recreational mudders, people who take four-wheel-drive vehicles out on these same dirt roads to cut ?wheely ruts,? and ?hot rod? on them for recreation.

These mudders are far removed in spirit and thought from our ancestors who helped build those roads for the personal and public good.

When the sheriff?s personnel catch one of the mudders at this activity, the judiciary owes it to the public and our collective heritage to impose attitude-changing penalties on them instead of dismissing them with the adage of ?Oh, they are just kids.?

Along with this, we need to do some deep introspection on what ?our times,? and ?our needs? really are.

The dirt roads obviously have been cut to pieces from a season of heavy rain. The base under rural roads has been damaged from standing water.

The roads have been narrowed by decades of farming close to the edge allowing ditches that carry water away to deteriorate.

Urban people in the county are contacting commissioners to say they really shouldn?t be asked to help pay for improving rural roads for the new generation of larger agri-businessmen.

Marion County has half the population it did in the 1940s, and the county doesn?t quite look the same as it did then with many small farmers and oil interests.

What?s fair for everybody is changing, and continuing to change.

Many farmers are asking that dirt roads be ?gated off? by the county to allow only keyed entry to help protect dirt surfaces from unneeded traffic.

The gating has to be done through a legalized process of requests from landowners and inspection by commissioners.

Should this process be expanded to allow the county to initiate gating?

Should some roads be abandoned?

Where are we going, and where do we want to go?

What are the next logical evolutionary steps for our local society also considering what our ancestors bequeathed us with?

Jerry Engler covers county government and agriculture for the Free Press. He can be reached at jerry@jerryengler.com.