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.