The Barton County Commission County Monday morning cemented its commitment to the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway when it approved a resolution naming the county the fiscal agent for the byway committee.
Since its inception, Barton County has held the funding for the byway, with the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau and the county acting as lead agencies. With the recent staff changes within both organizations, the byway committee asked that the County officially commit to overseeing the fiscal responsibilities.
“This left an opportunity for the county to step in,” Commissioner Alicia Straub said. Straub has been informally attending committee meetings representing the commission.
The byway dates back over 10 years, Straub said. That is when the CVB and the county joined forces to apply for a grant and initiate the process. Spearheading the effort were CVB Director Cris Collier and County Administrator Richard Boeckman.
Now, Straub said, that has all changed. Collier retired at the end of last year and Boeckman resigned last fall.
With Collier’s departure, the City of Great Bend restructured the CVB. This removed the bureau from the byway picture, Straub said.
This transition left the byway without a fiscal agent and it left a couple openings on the byway committee.
The scenic byway committee isn’t a government agency but it can partner with an eligible sponsor willing to administer a matching grant program. This will now be possible as the county will create a separate interest-bearing account in the committee’s name that will house funds dedicated to the byway.
However, commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz stressed that the action was not obligating the county to allocate any money. It merely allows the committee to “use the county’s bank account.”
Some grants the committee could apply for would require local matching money. But, Schartz said these would be brought to the commission on a case-by-case basis for approval.
One such grant is the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program. This $8 million federally funded program will provide projects like bike routes and safety signage with a 20 percent local cash match.
Commissioner Kenny Schremmer was concerned that Barton County would be footing all the expenses. He felt the other communities along the byway should participate as well.
“There is solid interest from the surrounding communities,” Straub said. The 77-mile byway winds through Barton and Stafford County, connecting Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, and includes Claflin, Ellinwood, Great Bend, Hudson, Stafford and St. John.
For the past few years, the county has paid the $1,900 annual fee to maintain the byway’s website. This will continue.
“The county has put so much work into this,” Straub said. “I would hate to see it dissolve.”
“This is part of economic development,” Schartz said, noting the importance of keeping the committee going.
Established in 2002, this byway region has been named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas.
Kansas has 12 byways, nine scenic byways and three historic byways. Two of the scenic routes, the Wetlands and Wildlife and the Flint Hills, have national scenic byway status.