Sunday, September 1, 2013


                    IS A COUNTRY OF MADMEN
                                                  George Santayana

     I have often wondered what makes bureaucrats think.  When so much of history has been lost over time, you cherish what you do have and protect it fiercely.  But the case of the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), who seems to live in a rarefied world, when given a task at hand it quite literally bulldozes its way without regard for people, property, or history.
     Kansas has been ranked as having the second best highways in the country and yet many travelers would never guess that.  We have had almost desperate need for highways in the western part of Kansas and there have been grand highway plans that should have been completed thirty years ago when the cost was half.
     Yet the highway fund has been the cash cow for several of the last governors including this one who campaigned that the fund would not be raided.  Given high hopes that the new director of KDOT, coming from the construction world, would put some logic and humanity back into an agency with a long history of just running through everything.
     Well the Topeka/KC mindset, that there is no Kansas west of US 81 highway, is still alive and well.  But a bright spot is that a section of US 50 Highway west of Dodge City is being widened into a four lane.  This is only fifty years over due.
    ACCEPT, there is one problem.  This is a stretch of the historic Santa Fe Trail and there is a rock formation called Point of Rocks.  It is an outcropping that was a landmark used by travelers.  This set of rocks is one of several carrying the name along the trail but the only one that may be bulldozed for the four lane highway project.
     Thank goodness there are people who care, and a man from Bucklin decided that running over a land mark that was there for the likes of Jed Smith, Josiah Gregg, or Robert Wright is not acceptable.  Or hundreds of mule skinners, ox carts, and freighting caravans.  And quoting The Cowboy "some unknown cowboy on his way to Ogahlala or Dakota Territory?  Or maybe just some brave that first saw the dust from Coronado's column off to the east".
     An archaeological report prepared in October 2012 found that the Point of Rocks was not eligible under Federal guidelines to be put on the Historic Register.  But you have to be conscious of the feel of history to appreciate the importance of this spot. 
     Those who have been charged with looking out for the interests of the citizens of the state, and those who travel through, need to held to a higher standard.  The one that can change it right now is the Office of the Governor. The legislature can change definitions but we have seen plenty of nothing from there.  The Director of the DOT can order policy changes.  But the fight must be by the people who feel that things like this need to be protected.  If  KDOT can build a highway through a swamp they can avoid destroying a part of our geological history that has been a landmark as long as the country has been inhabited.
     Those of us whom history is a living vital thing, place value on the ability to protect what would be lost by those who just don't care.  In a federal park or property and even may states it is illegal to pick up a rock and carry it away, let alone bulldoze it.  The rules of building a wind farm make any possible archaeological site protected and so does any other project.
       The value of history goes beyond a monetary mark.  It is the way that we base our future decisions.  I know that this is getting old but it is my favorite quote and one that I live by.  THOSE WHO IGNORE HISTORY ARE CONDEMNED TO RELIVE IT.  Our history is the foundation that we base our lives, country, and future on.

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