Last week Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Ron Estes introduced legislation to the U.S. Senate and to the House of Representatives, respectively, to designate the Chisholm and Western cattle trails as National Historic Trails. Only Congress can designate a National Historic Trail.
The trails were used after the Civil War for cattle drives from Texas to Kansas railheads. The Chisholm Trail (named for fur trader Jesse Chisholm) runs through Caldwell, Wichita, Abilene and Ellsworth, and the Western Trail runs through Dodge City and other Kansas communities, just west of the Ness County line and up through Gove County. Both trails were used primarily from 1867 to 1885 to move more than 10 million cattle across the country, contributing to the economic growth of the towns and cities the trails passed through.
Designating these cattle trails as historic trails will help preserve the role they played in our nation’s history, Moran said. That will enhance the pleasure and education of future generations and provide economic opportunities for Kansas communities to promote tourism.
Efforts to secure the designation of National Historic Trails have gone on for years and groups such as the Great Western Cattle Trail Association have placed markers and monuments along the trail. The International Chisholm Trail Association reported Moran and Estes had developed their legislation in 2019 when, after years of study, the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed the two trails met the criteria to be so designated.
Although 19 National Historic Trails have already been designated, including the California, Oregon, Santa Fe, Pony Express and Lewis and Clark Trails (which all passed through Kansas), a cattle trail has never been designated, according to the Chisholm Trail Association.
That group also notes that the proposed legislation would NOT mean federal land takeovers nor create a federal park, which members would oppose. Landowner participation is voluntary and the proposed budget for federal land acquisition for this project is zero.
However, designating these trails will permit the National Park Services to partner voluntarily with landowners, communities, state and local governments to maintain, conserve and promote the trails.
This is good news and we salute Sen. Moran and Rep. Estes for their efforts.