Group hopes to preserve historic Santa Fe Trail marker from highway expansion

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 9/9/2013

A proposed expansion to a four-lane divided highway between Cimarron and Dodge City, Kan., could spell the end of a historic marker on the Santa Fe Trail.
The Point of Rocks, a stone monument outside of Dodge City that has historically served as a marker for the Santa Fe Trail, could be moved or demolished to make room for a 13-mile expansion of U.S. Highway 50, between Dodge City and Cimarron.

Construction for the $69 million project is slated to begin in mid-2018, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Kirk Hutchinson, public affairs manager for KDOT’s Southwest District, said plans are only in the preliminary stages at this point, but that the landmark is likely to be affected due to the project’s budgetary and geographic constraints.

“They’ve tried to look at some alternatives there, in terms of a narrow median,” Hutchinson said. “Part of the issue is, no matter what you do there, Point of Rocks would be impacted.

“Because any improvement you make to the highway, to widen it in any fashion at all right through there requires the buying of additional right-of-way and we’re right up against the existing Point of Rocks as it is now. … That’s what they’re wrestling with is how you make that work with minimal impact. Trying to have no impact by rerouting the highway somewhere else doesn’t seem to be feasible cost-wise.”

The existing highway runs parallel to the north of both a railroad line and the Arkansas River, limiting the engineers’ ability to expand the roadway to the south.

Bill Bunyan, the president of the local chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association, said he and others are hoping to find an alternative solution that will preserve the Point of Rocks in its current location.

“(Point of Rocks) was important as a landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, but also important on the Great Western Cattle Trail,” Bunyan said.

Under the current proposal with an expanded median, Bunyan said 180 feet of the rock monument would have to be taken out, “which would basically take all of it.”

“My view is if there can be any kind of compromise, they might do an urban four-lane (which has no median) right up to Point of Rocks,” he said. “They’re talking about having a 60-foot median, which is why they’d need to take 180 feet of rocks.”

Portions of the rock were previously moved in at least two different highway expansions, most recently in the 1980s. The degradation of the monument prevents it from being listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, meaning the state would face no legal repercussions for removing it.

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