Editorial: Landmark access

Liability concerns may cut off public access to a Kansas landmark.

January 14, 2013


Huge chalk formations standing in the middle of the western Kansas flatlands are a startling and awesome sight. Monument Rocks and Castle Rock aren’t exactly Stonehenge, but they have rightly been designated as a national Natural Landmark and one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.

The rocks are pretty much in the middle of nowhere in Gove County, but many people find it worth their while to venture off major highways to see the chalk spires that were formed millions of years ago when a vast inland sea covered Kansas. Although the sites are national landmarks, the property has remained in private hands. Up to now, the public has had free access to the site, but the sale of the property may threaten that access.

According to the Hays Daily News, Norman Nelson, a Norton banker with extensive landholdings in Norton, Trego and Russell counties, is in the process of closing a $10 million deal to buy the 12,900-acre Pyramid Ranch, which is home to Monument Rocks and Castle Rock. He plans to raise cattle on the ranch and expand oil exploration on the property. But, because of liability issues, he’s not sure he’ll maintain public access to the landmark rocks.

His concern isn’t without basis. A man fell to his death in July 2009 while climbing on one of the rocks. The accident happened late at night, and news reports indicated alcohol might have been involved. Nelson said he was considering putting up “a good fence” that allowed people to see the towers but not get near them. That might work, but it’s difficult to envision a fence that would allow a good view but still keep determined trespassers out.

Are there other workable solutions to the liability problem? Waivers for visitors or a foundation to help defray the costs of liability coverage? Although Nelson’s concerns are understandable, it would be tragic if visitors lost meaningful access to these sites.


Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Maybe the legislature should consider passing a limited liability bill for private landowners who allow folks onto their land, like they do in Wisconsin. It could be a real boon for ecotourism in our state that has the highest percentage of land privately owned of any state in the US:


Joe Blackford II 4 years, 11 months ago

"our state that has the highest percentage of land privately owned of any state in the US"

I've never seen the fact Kansas is 50th in per capita public lands, yes = Rhode Island has more public lands per person for enjoyment of its natural wonders; stated in such a "positive" statement. This would seem counter to thinking in Kansas, that 49 states can afford to take land off the tax rolls to augment their citizens' Quality of Life.*

For the $10 m gamble, KS could have purchased the land as a hedge against the soon-to-be-evident day when all those FREE federal reservoirs will be silted in & recreational opportunities will have dried up.

*We can all look forward to the day the vast majority of recreational opportunities on KS public lands are in the median of I-70 & the ditches of all our roadways.

gccs14r 4 years, 11 months ago

No. When only the wealthy can afford the court system, we all lose.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

How many lives can be saved or injuries avoided by forbidding people from not only the chalk formations, but also Half-Dome, The Colorado River or Disneyworld? More and more Americans are willing to trade more and more freedom for potential safety. Where does it end?

Perhaps it is best that we all be placed in padded rooms where we can be assured 90 years of boredom and additionally suffer the torture and humiliation of the last 10. Maybe that's all we deserve.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

The Taliban destroyed a monument to save their people from the evils of Buddhism. Not that you are a Taliban, nor is Buddhism a direct threat to Lawrence. Similar enough for a strained analogy though.

My only suggestion would be that you purchase the tract and donate the formations to teachers so they can make chalk instead of having to buy it with their own money. You can be a philanthropist!

riverdrifter 4 years, 11 months ago

You are both a couple of D bags. The D is definitely pronounced.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

If we want to here you yelp, we'll yank your chain.

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