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Commission OKs Pawnee Rock park funds
Community wants to improve park, bolster pride
pawnee rock project commission
Barton County Commissioners Barb Esfeld, Shawn Hutchinson and Tricia Schlessiger Wednesday morning listen to a presentation about the project to improve the park in Pawnee Rock. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:

• Heard a Youth Crew Take Down Tobacco Day presentation.

Alvin Bowyer, Ellinwood High School, Paige Trendel, Great Bend Middle School, and Brody Rossman, Hoisington Middle School, represented Youth Crew at Take Down Tobacco Day in Topeka in early March, said Jasmine Figueroa, a sophomore at Great Bend High school. The students were introduced and discussed their day. In addition, the youth detailed community goals determined after attending this event. 

• Approved allocating $50,000 for the City of Pawnee Rock community park restoration project.

For some time, Pawnee Rock officials and Pawnee Rock residents have been working to secure funding to restore the community park to appeal to local families and restore pride in the community, said Denise Penn, manager of Intermediary Relationships for Cuna Mutual and Pawnee Rock resident.  

Included in Phase I of the project is re-doing the roof on the public restrooms and the construction of a 20-by-40-foot pavilion. Funding is being raised from multiple sources, including a private donation pledge of $50,000 if Barton County also committed $50,000.

• Approved participating in the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition lesser prairie chicken lawsuit.

KNRC member counties, representing the majority of the geographically defined lesser prairie chicken range in Kansas, were asked to vote on a lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in reference to the lesser prairie chicken listing, said County Administrator Matt Patzner.

For a small town, Pawnee Rock holds a lot of history. Sadly, the years have taken a toll on the once -thriving community.

But, with the help of a $50,000 infusion approved by the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning, the Pawnee Rock Revitalization Committee hopes to change that. There are plans to rejuvenate the city’s park and make it a nicer home for its growing younger population. 

“If you let a city go and you don’t care about it, you might have what Pawnee Rock kind of looks like today,” said Denise Penn, longtime Pawnee Rock resident and member of the Revitalization Committee. “So, we’ve really come together and said ‘we think that Pawnee Rock can become a thriving community.’”

“I applaud your guys’ efforts,” said District 4 Commissioner Tricia Schlessiger. “Great job.”

“With Barton County, our motto is that Barton county invests in growth,” said commissioner Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3. “But growth without a plan or people to implement that plan really isn’t growth at all. Pawnee Rock has a plan, but more even more importantly, Rock has people willing to put in the time and hard work to see it through.”

“You know, $50,000 is a lot of money, but coupled with the other money,” said District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld. “But, coupled with the other money, this is an investment that we don’t get paid very often.”

She has driven around the community and seen improvements. This park will just add to that.

About Pawnee Rock

It sits just about half way between Great Bend and Larned, and is the first town people traveling east on U.S. 56 see as they enter Barton County. “And, long, long ago, it had a history of being the in-between point between the (military) forts, and for people to come and rest and have protection,” Penn said.

In fact, her family lives just outside the city limits and they have found historical artifacts.

“So it just has a lot of history,” she said. “Pawnee Rock could be a revitalized place. We see people come into town all the time” making the trek up to the top of the rock to see the monument there.

“But yet when you get to town and there’s nothing, there’s no place to stop and get a drink. There’s no place to rest and relax,” she said. “That’s what we want to change.”

They also want a place for the residents to gather and for their children to play. 

The rock was first established as a stopping point, roughly the half-way point on the Santa Fe Trail, in 1822. This was long before Barton County and the town itself which was founded in 1887. 

“It is an historic site,” she said. It is recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places and maintained by the Kansas Historical Society. 

“It’s been a place that has been a safe haven for many people over the years,” she said. “We want that back again.”

There were a host of businesses and at least five different churches in Pawnee rock at a different time, Penn said. Parades held there years ago drew crowds in the thousands. 

Today, Pawnee Rock has 231 residents with 72 children, including families that have recently moved to town. There are 180 homes, 134 of which are occupied.

A growing population

“We’re meeting folks who are moving there because they’ve got a new job,” Penn said. “There are people that are willing to move there and not be in the ‘big city” of Great Bend and a nice place to live and that’s what we want to create.”

The committee, which has been in place for about a year, has conducted surveys to learn what people, both local residents and travelers, wanted. Cleaning up the community and offering things to do were high on the list, and this is what this initiative is all about.

“We’ve talked and we’ve talked and we’ve talked, and we’re ready to begin doing,” she said. “We have a plan of attack.”

There are restrooms, security cameras and tables there. Now, phase one involves building a gazebo where the community members can gather. 

Then the second phase will be some playground equipment. 

Laying the foundation

“Now we’ve already done a lot of work,” she said. “We’ve done surveys, we’ve gotten community awareness and we’ve gotten community support,” 

They have raised money on their own before asking for help. Funds have come from local businesses and charitable organizations, and they are planning fundraising events, like a fun run up to the top of the rock. So far, they have raised around $12,000. 

This is when Penn asked the county for the $50,000. 

Through the Golden Belt Community Foundation, a matching $50,000 was pledged the Brad and Jeanine Haynes Donor Advised Fund, in memory of Jeanine’s parents Keith and Marian (Schmitt) Mull.  They were area residents from 1923 through 2022 where he was a farmer, stockman and businessman.

“We humbly ask this, and we also proudly ask it, because we think Pawnee Rock can be something and we ask for your support.”

pawnee rock project denise penn
Denise Penn of Pawnee Rock addresses the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning about the project to renovate the community’s park. The commission pledged $50,000 to the effort. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune