Great Bend Tree Board President Toni Rice asked the Great Bend City Council Monday nightfor permission to move forward on the purchase of a pergola for the Argonne Forest. The feature will be part of an overall renovation project the group hopes to complete in time for a military anniversary with local significance.
The process of finding a builder for the structure hasn’t been easy, Rice said. Board members contacted several area contractors to solicit bids for erecting a pergola between the two parking areas abutting the Forest to the south. Only one bid was received, for $55,000. The bid was later withdrawn. Tree Board members then sought a contractor outside the area.
A pergola is typically a freestanding structure with four vertical posts that support a slatted covering, and typically forms a shaded passageway or sitting area. The proposed pergola will be roughly 12 by 16 feet, and made of redwood by California company Forever Redwood, a forestry company that replants following harvest. All materials will be made from redwood or stainless steel.
The company offers up to a 30 year warranty against decay. The company has provided items to the White House and Disney Inc., Rice said. A deposit will be required up front, and the company will create detailed architectural plans. It would be built to the city’s specifications at the company site in California, then disassembled and shipped free of charge to Great Bend. It is estimated that it will take two city employees about two days to reconstruct the kit.
Once the plan is finalized, it can be ready to ship in four weeks. The city will be responsible for the concrete footings, but the rest of the materials will be included in the price, which is estimated to be about $8,500.
The pergola would be the final step in the first phase of a project the Tree Board has adopted in order to maintain its 42 year designation as a Tree City USA.
Rice noted that the term “Argonne” can be seen throughout the city, which prompted the board to find out why. They’ve since learned the term holds a tremendous historical importance to Great Bend, dating back to World War I.
According to Barton County Historical Society historian Karen Neuforth, in late 2017, the Great Bend National Guard Unit, Company C, was called up for active duty. They became part of the Santa Fe Division, which consisted of 27,000 men. Information on the Kansas National Guard museum website states the division trained for seven months before being sent to England in April, 2018. They fought in smaller battles as they moved toward the Meuse-Argonne Sector, popularly referred to as the Argonne Forest Beginning on Sept. 26, 1918, and lasting until Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, “when the greatest battle in American military history, the Battle of the Argonne,” was fought. The division returned to America in April, 1919. Practically all the units paraded in Kansas and Missouri before the men were discharged. Division casualties included “1,480 deaths, 6,001 wounded, and 167 captured, making a grand total of 7,913 men,” making it one of the bloodiest battles in modern history.
Decades ago, the Argonne Forest was established in Great Bend, as a memorial to those men, and to provide a place where residents could see and appreciate a variety of trees, something rare on the prairie, Rice said. Over the years, several trees have died or faltered. The Tree Board has since replanted 23 trees, created a list and map of existing healthy trees, pruned and restored to health a number of trees, and erected informational signage. A path has been installed in the forest, and members would like to have the pergola completed in time to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of Company C’s journey to Argonne.
City Attorney Bob Seulter and Neuforth will provide historical research for signage the group plans to include at the entrance, Rice said.
Money set aside
City council member Vicki Berryman inquired about the covering of the structure, which will be slatted and open to avoid any issues with snow load. Rice said the builder will guarantee the structure for 30 years, and envisions it supporting vegetation at some point in the future.
Partington said that $20,000 has already been set in 2015 aside for a number of the renovation projects for the Argonne Forest. About $10,000 still remains.
“They’ve been in my office several times,” Partington said. “It’s taken them a long time to get to where they are now.”
With that, the council approved the Tree Board’s request to move ahead on the project.