Oakley It’s been a journey not at all unlike that of settlers heading west to reach the western Kansas frontier.
In fact, it’s a journey that follows a modern-day trail of what settlers saw when they headed west.
Nearly two years ago, community leaders from Logan, Wallace and Scott counties agreed to seek out a scenic byway designation for a 105-mile strip of highway stretching from Scott City to Oakley to Sharon Springs.
But when they came forward with their proposal, it was suggested that perhaps the route would be better suited as a historic byway.
“We would be the state’s first historic byway,” said Raelene Keller, an Oakley resident who is leading the charge to make the designation reality. “It’s the very same thing, but it stresses the historic component.”
Kansas already has nine scenic byways, including the Smoky Valley and Post Rock byways in the area.
The route — already dubbed the Western Plains Historic Byway — would focus on historic sites along the way.
Essentially, the byway would head north out of Scott City on U.S. Highway 83, taking a short diversion along Kansas Highway 95 about 10 miles to the north.
K-95 passes near two historic sites, Battle Canyon, the last Indian battle in Kansas, and Scott State Lake.
The byway continues north as K-95 connects back up with U.S. 83, until it reaches Oakley. The historic route then continues on west on U.S. Highway 40 to the eastern edge of Sharon Springs.
Along the way, there are a number of diversions — sites either along the highway or just a few short miles away.
In Oakley, for example, there’s the larger-than-life Buffalo Bill sculpture on the city’s west side.
At the Scott-Logan County line, there’s both Keystone Gallery and Monument Rocks to either side of U.S. 83.
Also in Oakley, there’s the Fick Fossil Museum. Southwest of Oakley, there’s the 17,500-acre Smoky Valley Ranch, complete with a 1- and 5-mile hiking trail.
To the west, there’s the Butterfield Trail Museum in Russell Springs, and the Fort Wallace Cemetery and Fort Wallace Museum.
“We have many other sites along the way that we’re pointing out,” Keller said.
Those other historic sites are along the byway, and ultimately will be included in an array of information made available to travelers, either through brochures, kiosks, signs or perhaps a CD motorists will be able to take with them, something of an electronic tour guide, as they drive the route.
Also highlighted will be the flora and fauna of the area, the history of the Butterfield Trail that ferried settlers west and a branch of a Texas cattle trail that passed through.
Currently, Keller said, she and others are working on the byway’s corridor management plan.
“So far, we’re up to 80 pages,” she said. “We’d like to complete that by the end of the year.”
Then it will fall to the byway committee, part of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“The earliest I think we could expect for approval will be late summer or early fall,” she said.
When that happens, KDOT plans to offer at least one information kiosk, and highway access for it. The local byway group hopes to add to that, along with markers that tell the tale of individual stops.
Keller said the group already has 20 primary sites and 12 to 14 second sites for people to see.
“There’s phenomenal history,” she said.