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Byway summit considered success
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Tax sale today

The annual Barton County Tax Sale is set for 10 a.m. today in the Conference Room of the Barton County Courthouse and Barton Councy commissioner Kenny Schremmer will donate auctioneering services. At this time, there are 15 parcels on the tax sale, most of which are either vacant lots or abandoned houses. They can be viewed at
Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman said the goal of the sale is to encourage owners to pay the taxes they owe, not to sell people’s property.

The purpose of the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway Planning Summit last Wednesday in Hoisington was two fold, said Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman. First, attendees wanted to tout the route’s successes and, second, they wanted to identify ways to continue its relevance in the future.
“I thought it was a success, both in terms of attendance and participation,” Boeckman told the Barton County Commission during its meeting Monday morning. An active and vocal crowd of 51 made up of private citizens from Barton, Stafford and Reno counties, along with local, state, economic development and federal representatives showed up at the Hoisington Activity Center.
They helped craft a plan to provide for the byway’s growth over the next three to five years, while protecting and preserving the intrinsic qualities of the byway corridor.  
Since the byway’s inception in 2004, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center near Cheyenne Bottoms has been built, a scenic overlook near Hoisington has been installed and aggressive marketing campaigns established. But, Boeckman said, there is room for improvement.
“What happens next?” Boeckman asked. The wish list includes better signage and infrastructure, as well as a closer relationship with the media.
“The byway is an eco tourism project,” he said. The idea is to attract visitors who spend money in the counties along the 70-mile route that would not have otherwise been spent.
“We want to grow the tax base,” Boeckman said, adding this may lower the stress on the mill levy. “The big picture is that this is very important to the county.”
There are seven communities along the byway that winds through Barton and Stafford counties. Included are Claflin, Ellinwood, Great Bend, Hoisington, Hudson, Stafford and St. John. At the north end is the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the Nature Conservancy’s property, and at the other end is Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is a community byway,” Boeckman said. There are many partners in the effort, and most were represented at the summit.
From the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the Kansas Department of Transportation to Barton Community College to the two wetlands to city officials to chambers of commerce to county commissioners to the general public, all were present and offered input.
There are four committees dealing with the byway. Boeckman said the new objectives will be divided among them.
“It makes me feel good to be a part of this community,” said commissioner Jennifer Schartz who was at the meeting. It was impressive to her to see the positive energy from people who share a common interest.
“Statistics show there is more interest in the by way than we here locally imagined,” said commissioner Don Cates, who was also at the conference. He realized Barton County isn’t in this alone.
“We realized how little we know about the other communities (along the byway),” Cates said. “We need to think of ourselves as one community, the byway community, and promote each other.”
In other business, the commission:
• Approved an agreement with H. W. Lochner Inc., a national engineering firm with a site in Salina, for professional engineering services. The $22,450 agreement calls for services in connection with the Ellinwood bridge expansion joint replacement project. Under the it, Lochner will prepare plans and cost projections for the job within 60 days.
• Reappointed Karen Neuforth and John Smith, both of rural Great Bend, to the Barton County Community Development Advisory Board. The BCCDAB advises the commission on economic and community development matters, monitors the progress of the Barton County Strategic Plan and makes suggestions to the commissioners concerning the advancement and realization of the plan goals. The terms expire in August 2015. There is one other board position with the same term and the person holding it has yet to re-apply. In addition, there is an opening on the board for a representative from Hoisington.
• Barton County officials attended the South Central Kansas Kansas Department of Transportation Local Consultation workshop on Sept. 27 in Hutchinson. KDOT officials wanted input  from communities on transportation priorities. Boeckman, who was one in attendance, said among the projects discussed was the expansion of K-96 from Ellinwood to Sterling and a possible four-lane expressway between Great Bend and Ellinwood. However, he said, neither project is definite.