By Sam Jack
The National Park Service recently announced that the Chisholm Trail meets the criteria to become a National Historic Trail.
From 1867 to 1872, more than 3 million head of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene. The trail’s historic route passes through Sumner County, Clearwater, and what is now the Oatville neighborhood near Haysville.
The park service made its determination in a study submitted to the U.S. Congress on May 17.
In the study, the park service proposes administering the Chisholm Trail and the related Western Cattle Trail together as one unit, though each would still be separately designated as National Historic Trails.
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The study estimates that start-up costs to make plans and designate the two trails would run between $500,000 and $800,000. The trails would have an annual budget of $350,000 to $500,000, including salaries for one or two full-time staff people.
The National Park Service could pay for “retracement trails” along parts of the historic routes, the study notes. It could also develop trailhead exhibits and visitor centers, as well as official maps, guides, signage and educational materials.
That investment would complement what local individuals and groups are doing to promote and commemorate the Chisholm Trail. Residents of Clearwater, Wichita and Sumner County joined with others from Oklahoma and Texas to celebrate the trail’s 150th anniversary in 2017. Last month, more than 70 horseback riders followed the trail’s approximate route from Caldwell through Clearwater, a ride that will be featured on an upcoming episode of RFD-TV’s “Best of America by Horseback.”
In a letter National Park Service deputy director P. Daniel Smith sent to members of Congress, Smith noted that “the Department of the Interior does not support trail designation at this time due to the $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog within NPS.” It would be up to Congress to overrule the Department of the Interior’s position, designate the trails and budget money for them.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said the National Park Service determination represents a step in that direction.
“I am pleased to have partnered with a coalition of Kansans in working to conserve these trails that are foundational for many Kansas communities and of national historic significance,” Moran said in a statement. “Importantly, designating these trails will not require federal land acquisition and participation by private property owners is strictly voluntary. I look forward to continuing our work as we begin the process of passing legislation to officially designate these trails.”