Honoring the perseverance, resilience, and sacrifice of our ancestors is an American tradition on Memorial Day. To shed light on these inspiring stories, the Trego County Historical Society Museum is currently hosting two exhibits that takes a look at life in a rural community and recreating a monument to Trego County men and women who have service our nation.
Crossroads: Change in Rural America
The Trego County Historical Society Museum has joined with five other Northwest Kansas museums to host a special Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, called Crossroads: Change in Rural America.
Our installation coordinates with the main Smithsonian exhibit that is on display at the Gloria Nelson Cultural Arts Center in Norton, Kansas from May 1stto June 13th. As part of the larger five-part, regional exhibit, WaKeeney’s installation, along with Hoxie, Oberlin, Colby, and Goodland, explores the future and sustainability of small towns through the local events that have affected our Northwest Kansas communities. Local exhibitions, public programs, online resources, and the Smithsonian exhibition is meant to inspire thought-provoking questions as we consider the future of America’s rural communities.
During your visit to WaKeeney’s museum, don’t forget to pick up an exhibit passport to collect stamps while visiting the other participating museums. Once you’ve filled your passport, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a prize awarded by the participating sites.
The Veterans Honor Roll
The Trego County Museum has recently been busy recreating a military monument that once stood in Downtown WaKeeney’s Courthouse Park on the corner of Russell and Main.
The original Trego County Honor Roll was built in 1944 by the WaKeeney Lions Club to honor the men and women who served in World War II. The memorial included over 600 names of those that served during the war. In the late 1960’s, the Honor Roll was replaced with a new memorial under the direction of the WaKeeney Jaycees. This memorial still stands in the courthouse square.
The 16’ x 10’ replica is constructed of wood, with a marble stucco design that resembles the original honor roll from the 1940’s. The new Honor Roll will include the names of those that served from Trego County, starting with WWI to the present day.
Accompanying the monument is a Roll Call book with each service member’s name, years served, and their military branch. The exhibit will be a permanent addition to the military collection at the museum and curators are currently gathering names to add to the board. Some records are unavailable, so if you would like to add the name of your loved one, please, contact the museum to find out how.
The Trego County Historical Society Museum is open Tuesday – Friday 10am to noon and 1pm to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday by appointment. In May, the museum is open on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and will be open on Memorial Day from 11am to 3pm.
It’s time to hit the road to explore Trego County and join the 36.5 million tourists who visit our state each year!
This May 2-8, we’ll be celebrating National Travel & Tourism Month. Tourism is a vital piece of the Kansas economy, supporting 66K jobs and contributing $7.3 billion to the state’s economy, a $775 million increase since 2015!
We believe our residents are our best ambassadors, so we’ve created the #TourTrego challenge to help spread the word about all the great things to see and do in Trego County. It’s a fun, interactive way for you to enjoy our county by sharing your best selfies on your Facebook page along with he hashtag “#TourTrego.” Each time you do, your name will be entered in a drawing for $50 in Wampum bucks to spend at one of WaKeeney’s businesses.
We’ve put together a list of the most popular places to explore around our county to help you get started.
Hiking, Fishing, and Fun!
Cedar Bluff State Park & Reservoir is Trego County’s natural playground where visitors can explore hiking trails, camp, fish, view wildlife, and enjoy watersports throughout the year. Share a photo of your child hooking a fish at Pa’s pond, located in the Bluffton Area on the North Shore, or find your favorite spot for a selfie along Agave Ridge Nature Trail.
Travel the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway
It’s a well-known fact that Trego County holds many scenic wonders. The Kansas Byways Program has taken notice of this by designating a 60-mile route through Trego as one of their eleven Kansas tourism routes, naming it the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway.
Kansas’s First “Highway”
Along the route, fourteen miles south of Cedar Bluff State Park on K-147 Hwy., you’ll find a stretch of the original Smoky Hills Trail that settlers used to travel from Atchison, Kansas to Denver, Colorado on the Butterfield Overland Despatch. Look for the limestone post marking the trail’s path. Information about the trail is carved into the top of the limestone post, along with an arrow pointing towards the next marker along the trail.
Taking the Kids to an Authentic Prairie Schoolhouse
Continue on K-147 Hwy., turning north when you get to Hwy. 283, and keep an eye out for Wilcox Schoolhouse, a one-room building constructed of hand-cut, native limestone. In May 2006, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and refurbished with grants from the Kansas Historical Society’s Heritage Trust Fund and other gifts.
Built in 1886, the school was named for William Wilcox, the first settler and postmaster of Wilcox township, and served the community as a school, place of worship, and community center for decades. After the school closed, it served as a manufacturing site for the World War II “Cotton Mattress Program” and later it became a local hub for a motorcycle club called the Hi-Plains Gravel Grinders. You’ll find the schoolhouse 16-miles south of WaKeeney on Hwy. 283. Don’t forget to get a photo and tag it with #TourTrego!
Wildlife and Wildflowers
As you drive along Hwy. 283, look for wildlife, such as jackrabbits, mule deer, and meadowlarks, the Kansas state bird. The recently installed interpretive signs along the route can provide you with more information about the prairie and its flora and fauna.
A Rockhound’s Paradise
Get out your cameras out for a selfie at one of Western Kansas’s most notable geographic features!
Castle Rock and the nearby Badlands is a geologist’s and paleontologist’s playground. Along the trails that crisscross the rock outcroppings, earthen pyramids, and striking white towers, or “hoodoos,” you’ll find the fossilized remains of animals from the Cretaceous Period. Look for sharks’ teeth, mollusks, ammonites, plesiosaurs–a predatory marine reptile–giant selfish, mosasaurs, and squid-like animals that have all become part of this unique landscape. There’s also a chance you might find fossils of animals that roamed our prairie in more recent ancient times, such as mammoths and saber-toothed tigers of the pre-historic era.
Digging into Trego County’s History
The Trego County Historical Society Museum has added onto their floor space in recent years and now offers even more for history buffs to explore. Filled with collections donated by the local community, visitors will find everything from prehistoric era fossils, to 20th century home and farm artifacts that have come directly from the families of Trego County. Of special note, is an ornate 1920s facade that once graced the front of the WaKeeney State Bank, the extensive Purinton Fossil Collection, and a mural by local artist Laurie Albin that celebrates our founders and the history of the region.
Honoring U.S. Veterans
WaKeeney is known for its many monuments celebrating the sacrifices of our military veterans.
The Iwo Jima monument at WaKeeney’s East exit on I-70 memorializes the soldiers of World War II in the Pacific Theater. Based on Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by photographer Joe Rosenthal, WaKeeney’s monument was designed and created by local volunteers and veterans, and paid for through donations that came from across the United States.
The metal and rock monument acts as a base for the stars and stripes to unfurl in our famous Kansas wind–a suitable welcome’s into our city where only a mile north on Hwy. 283 you’ll find the Kansas Veterans Cemetery, the final resting place for our state’s military men and women from every branch of service.
The F-14 Tomcat
Plan a stop at Eisenhower Park at WaKeeney’s West exit on I-70 to get up close to an F-14 Grumman Tomcat fighter jet. This decommissioned Air Force jet was one of 712 that served as interceptors, to gain air superiority, and as a multirole fighter between the years 1970 to 2006.
Enjoy a Day in Our Parks
Begin a game of “Geocache” in one of our beautiful parks. Follow pre-set coordinates to different points around our county and see if there is a treasure left by the last person to find the location in this hi-tech game of hide and seek.
Do you like Frisbee golf? Make your way to WaKeeney’s Boy Scout Park to play the nine-hole course. It’s challenging and fun and is the perfect place for an exciting challenge with friends. Don’t forget to get a group selfie and add #TourTrego as you upload it to your Facebook page!
Celebrating and Shopping in Downtown WaKeeney
WaKeeney celebrates Christmas all year long! Look for all the Christmas trees in front of our Downtown businesses and visit North Pole Park where Santa comes to visit during our annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There is a new photograph mural depicting the “Christmas City of the High Plains” during the holidays and you’ll need to get your best smile on to get a selfie behind one of the park’s holiday cutouts of elves and snowmen.
New LED lights were installed on the buildings of all our downtown business’s rooftops in 2020 in celebration of the 70th anniversary of our famous 35-foot Christmas tree. They are operational throughout the year, flashing colors during the evening hours.
Get Your Game On
Big Creek Golf Course is a nine-hole course featuring 3,213 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 35. The course is part of the Kansas Golf Association with a rating of 36.3 and a slope rating of 111, with several elevation changes that make it more challenging than a typical prairie track. The buffalo grass fairways are comprised of rolling hills that end at watered greens.
Lift a glass and take a selfie with your friends at Shiloh Vineyards. They offer twelve wines, including four fruit flavors and eight traditional vintages of dry white, red and dessert wines. Find your favorite inside their tasting room, then take a stroll across the grounds and enjoy the farm life. Shiloh Vineyards is located south of I-70, west of WaKeeney at Exit 120.
WaKeeney has a wide variety of great restaurants with delicious menu options. Put some spice in your life at Tropical Mexican Restaurant or sit down at the Brazen Bull for great local cuisine, steak, and burgers.
The Western Kansas Saloon & Grill serves up a great selection of entrees and beverages, along with the ambiance of the Old West in one of Downtown WaKeeney’s oldest buildings. Look for the unusual A-frame building to find delicious diner food at Jake and Chet’s Cafe and Sundowner Lounge. If you are in mind for something sweet, check out the baked goods at Hometown Bakery. Cakes, donuts, cookies, and sandwiches are all made fresh daily.
For people on the go, we recommend a quick stop at one of our fast-food restaurants. Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonalds, and Dairy Queen will serve you a good meal quickly so you can get back on the road to fun!
Now that you’ve enjoyed your day like a tourist, upload your pictures to your Facebook page with the hashtag “#TourTrego” for a chance to win $50 in Wampam bucks, while spreading the word about Trego County, Kansas!
The 70thanniversary of the first tree lighting ceremony in the “Christmas City of the High Plains” is only days away as we ‘round the corner to the holiday season. Our festival planners have been busy planning an extravaganza of fun and festive activities on Saturday, November 28thto kick off the season and celebrate seven decades of holiday spirit in WaKeeney.
Get your Christmas shopping lists ready for the Annual Christmas Bazaar hosted by the Trego County Home Based Businesses. Vendors from across Western Kansas will be displaying their products for shoppers to find the perfect gifts for their family and friends. From personal care items, to Christmas ornaments you will treasure for years; you’ll find something special at the Christmas Bazaar held at the Trego County Fairgrounds from 9 AM – 4 PM.
Christmases of Years Past
Visit the Trego County Historical Society Museum for a trip back in time through the “Timeless Holiday Tradition” display. It explores the holiday traditions held dear by the people of our community and shares the story of how WaKeeney became “The Christmas City of the High Plains.” Included in the exhibition is a scaled down model of our Christmas tree and life-sized replicas of the bells, wreaths, and stars still used in the Main Street display to this day. The museum is open from 10 AM – 4 PM.
Christmas Comes Alive
Bring the kids to the WaKeeney Public Library for a live puppet show of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” It is a story of redemption for our favorite Christmas “humbug” Ebenezer Scrooge who learns the true meaning of Christmas with the help of the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. The performance begins at 2 PM.
Christmas Traditions in Downtown WaKeeney
Join us on Main Street and take a ride on the Nex-Tech Express Train or a horse drawn wagon. See our famous Christmas lights from the unique perspective of an old-time ride down Main Street. Tickets are FREE for the train and wagon rides, as well as a visit later with Santa. They are available for pick up at the WaKeeney Public Library beginning at 3 PM and everyone is encouraged to grab one to reduce the chance of long lines. The rides will run between 4 PM and 8 PM.
A Visit from Santa’s Reindeer
Christmas wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of Santa’s team of reindeer. Stop by their holiday trailer parked on Main Street to wish them well on their long trek around the world on Christmas Eve. There will be four live reindeer to view, which runs from 4 – 8 PM.
A Communal Meal to Warm the Christmas Spirit
Plan to stop at the VFW Hall for a bowl of hot soup and a delicious dessert. This is an annual event that warms the heart, as well as the spirit. The selection of soups and desserts are homemade by the local chefs of the VFW Auxiliary and will be served at 4:30 PM. You can choose to eat there or take a meal to go. Bring your appetites!
Hometown Christmas Hospitality
Get a jump on your holiday shopping by visiting Downtown WaKeeney businesses. Many of them offer special sales during the event, as well as sweets to enjoy and fun activities for the kids. Businesses participating in Santa’s Downtown Workshop will be open from 5 – 8 PM.
Be sure to stop by the recently updated North Pole Park to see the photo mural that was recently added to the north wall. The image was captured by Sarah Hille of Free Range Photography and recently installed by Commercial Sign Company. Gather your family together to take photos behind the fun elves and snowmen cut outs—a perfect photographic souvenir of your time in WaKeeney!
And, don’t forget to stock up on WaKeeney Christmas City note cards to send to all your friends this holiday season. The image is a reproduction of an original oil painting by local artist Laurie Albin. Two styles are available for $10 per package of five and all proceeds go to the North Pole Project. They are available at Gibson’s Health Mart, Solution North Bank, First Federal Bank, Peoples State Bank, The Studio 128, and Trego County Historical Museum.
70 Years of Christmas Joy Under WaKeeney’s Famous Tree
Come celebrate the 70thAnniversary of the “Christmas City of the High Plains”when we turn on the lights to our famous 35-foot Christmas tree!The TCHS band will be playingour favorite holiday songs under the direction of Randy Saueraswe wait for Santa’s arrival. The Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony begins at 6 PM and Santa will make his way down Main Street to light the tree and its heavenly blue canopy at approximately 6:15 PM.
Santa’s Arrival in the “Christmas City of the High Plains”
Bring your kids to the North Pole Park to show Santa his new “home” in WaKeeney. Our volunteer team of elves have been working hard to get it ready for Santa so he can sit in comfort as he receives our children’s Christmas wish lists. Treats will be handed out, along with Christmas cheer, after the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony concludes around 6:15 PM. Kids can bring their letters to Santa and deposit them in the North Pole Park Victorian-style mailbox.
Celebrating 70 Years of Christmas Spirit
WaKeeney has been celebrating Christmas with bright lights and lots of holiday spirit for seven decades. With the new additions of LED lights, a new home for Santa, and the updates to North Pole Park, we are ready to ring in another seventy years. Please join us under the lights of our famous tree on November 28th, 2020 (always the Saturday after Thanksgiving) to celebrate the holidays and the festive spirit of the “Christmas City of the High Plains.”
This annual tradition will continue in 2020 but we urge everyone to practice safety measures. Please, follow social distancing guidelines & please wear masks if required. Follow us on Facebook @GetWaKeeney, check out our website, or call (785) 743-8325 for more information.
Museum curators have been busy adding more items to their exhibit each month since its opening in July. The exhibit has steadily been increasing in size, with each month exploring a different phase in the history of WaKeeney’s light display.
In July, the museum featured Christmas tree inspired items, such as Christmas trees shaped cookie cutters, salt and pepper shakers, Christmas stockings, and many more items. Each month, fourteen more representations of Christmas trees are added until November, when the full collection of 70 items will complete the display.
The tree’s construction and its ornaments were examined in the August exhibit, with several made to scale cardboard cutouts of the wreaths, bells, and stars available to view up close. Information cards further explore how two local community leaders, Art Keraus and J.H. “Jake” Heckman came up with the concept and rallied the Trego County community to lend their time, talents, and even heavy equipment to install the very first light display in 1950.
September’s addition to the exhibit took a look at the history of the official 1988 logo and the many different items that have promoted the “Christmas City of the High Plains” through the years.
The logo was created by WaKeeney native Tracey Deines Davis, cofounder of Duncan and Davis advertising firm. It has since been used on keychains, postcards, ornaments, mugs, and many other treasured keepsakes that remind us of special Christmases spent in WaKeeney.
Celebrate with Us in the “Christmas City of the High Plains”
Explore the history of WaKeeney’s spectacular Christmas light display with a trip to the Trego County Historical Museum! The exhibit will continue to explore a new theme every month until Saturday, November 28, 2020, when we will celebrate 70 years since WaKeeney’s first Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. The museum has created a scavenger hunt to find all the trees currently on display and visitors can check back each month to find the new trees that have been added to the display.Hope to see you there!
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first tree lighting and we’re kicking off the festivities early with a look into the past as we prepare for the future during “Christmas in July!”
Putting the Shine on Christmas
Over the past few weeks, members of our community have gathered together to clean up and refurbish the decorations that have turned Downtown WaKeeney into a glittering holiday spectacle every December since 1950.
The 24 original, handmade bells and 14 wreaths that decorate our streets each year are stored throughout the room in the “Christmas Room” in the City Building. Recently, a group of volunteers spent the two evenings cleaning and painting them to put the shine back on when they greet our guests at the 70th anniversary event of the “Christmas City of the High Plains.” They are just one piece of the beautiful display that brings people from all over the world to our town every Christmas Season.
Throughout the years, we’ve added even more to the display, which now boasts 1100-yards of greenery, additional decorations, 6,800 red, yellow, blue, and green lights, and the new LED perimeter lights installed in 2018 that decorate Downtown WaKeeney all year long!
Photo provided by Trego County Historical Society Museum.
Christmas, Past and Present
When our four-square block Christmas display was first revealed in 1950, newspapers from Kansas and Colorado visited our town to cover the grand presentation. The Hays Daily News, Wichita Beacon, Topeka Capital, Wichita Eagle, and the Denver Post all attended the inaugural ceremony, capturing the beauty in photographs to share with their readers. They nicknamed WaKeeney “The Christmas City of Kansas” and the “Christmas Decorations City,” giving it the distinction of being a “must see” holiday experience.
Photo provided by Trego County Historical Society Museum.
The Trego County Historical Society Museum has joined the “Christmas in July” celebration with an exhibit that celebrates our tree and it’s history. Fourteen Christmas trees are currently on display, and each month an additional fourteen trees will be added until there are 70 Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes in the museum. Included in the collection is a replica of the first Christmas tree that was made to scale and donated by Sylvia Sherfick.
Current and former residents of our community are invited to be a part of the exhibition by sharing their treasured photographs or memories of past tree lightning ceremonies. Contact the Historical Society Museum for more information.
Celebrating the 70thAnniversary of WaKeeney’s Christmas Tree
Don’t forget to order your official anniversary t-shirt. The “Too Lit to Quit” t-shirts can be preordered now at the Bonfire online store. (They come in grey/black, blue, purple, red, and Christmas green, with the official 70th anniversary and the “Too Lit to Quit” logos printed in white. The shirts can be ordered as a short sleeve or long sleeve shirt, in sizes Youth, to 3XL and they can be shipped to your home or they can be picked up at Malay’s Market. The proceeds from the shirts will go toward the construction of a new Santa House in North Pole Park.
Photo provide by the Trego County Historical Society Museum.
The Holiday Spirt is Alive and Well in WaKeeney, Kansas
For 70 years, WaKeeney has been the “Christmas City of the High Plains.” The traditions, memories, and good tidings our tree has provided our community and its visitors is at the center of a six-month celebration that will be remembered for years to come. Join us in celebrating “Christmas in July” and meet us under the tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 28, 2020!
This year marks the 70thanniversary of the “Christmas City of the High Plains” and we are planning a celebration that will be bigger and more festive than ever before!
The WaKeeney “elves” are busy sprucing up the historic 1950 decorations and adding to the town’s many holiday attractions to make our town sparkle with holiday spirit and community pride.
You can become part of the effort, too!
“Too Lit to Quit” T-shirts
The “Too Lit to Quit” t-shirt is the official shirt celebrating the 70thanniversary of our annual Christmas event. It’s a nod toward the LED color-changing parimeter lights that were installed in 2018 during the “Get Lit” initiative. Today, you’ll find them brightening up Main Street throughout the year to celebrate holidays and events happening in our town.
The “Too Lit to Quit” t-shirts can be preordered now at the Bonfire online store, with a delivery time of 15 days. (Orders placed after the initial start date of July 15th will be filled in 15-day increments.) They come in grey/black, blue, purple, red, and Christmas green, with the official 70thanniversary and the “Too Lit to Quit” logos printed in white. The shirts can be ordered as a short sleeve or long sleeve shirt, in sizes Youth, to 3XL. The unisex classic crewneck style t-shirt is made from a long-lasting, durable 60-40 cotton/polyester blend that is combed and ringspun for a soft texture and premium feel. You can have them delivered to your home, or save on shipping charges by having them delivered to the central WaKeeney distribution point, Malay’s Market.
The New Santa House
The proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go toward building the new Santa house in North Pole Park. This project has just gotten underway and promises to be a magical place where kids can tell their secret wishes to our annual guest of honor; Santa Clause!
Get the Christmas spirit started early by purchasing a “Too Lit to Quit” t-shirt and help us celebrate the 70thAnniversary of the Christmas City of the High Plains! The ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 28th, two days after Thanksgiving, in Downtown WaKeeney!
For more than six decades, Interstate 70 has played an important role in the economy and tourism of Kansas. In Trego County, it takes us to work, leads people to our businesses, and even brings WaKeeney’s famous Christmas Tree to our Main Street.
Photo courtesy of the Trego County Historical Society.
Trego County’s I-70 Dedication Ceremony, the First in NW Kansas
The 22+ mile portion of I-70 that crosses Trego County was dedicated on October 10, 1960 in a ceremony attended by representatives of the governor’s office, state highway department officials, and regional and local dignitaries. The stretch between Ogallah and Collyer was the first portion completed in Northwest Kansas, a full ten years prior to the official completion of the entire stretch of road through our state.
Photo from the Western Kansas World, courtesy of the Trego County Historical Society.
“Harold Hillman, president of Chamber of Commerce, waits for ribbon cutting with Vesta and Vera McCoy, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Johnny McCoy and Duane Carlson. The girls held the blue ribbon that was stretched across the south double lane of Interstate 70 highway.”
“Harold Hillman, president of Chamber of Commerce, waits for ribbon cutting with Vesta and Vera McCoy, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Johnny McCoy and Duane Carlson. The girls held the blue ribbon that was stretched across the south double lane of Interstate 70 highway.” From the Western Kansas World Newspaper, October 1960. Photo courtesy of the Trego County Historical Society.
The ceremony began with the Trego Golden Eagles Band parading down WaKeeny’s Main Street, followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the rest area between mile markers 130 & 131. Several speeches were given and a concert was performed by the TCHS band. A large group of Trego County residents were in attendance and the ceremony concluded with a buffet luncheon at the Staatz Hotel in Downtown WaKeeney.
Linking the Country Together
Interstate 70 was an initiative of Kansas-born President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a World War II general, he was inspired by the Autobahn, Germany’s highway system, and saw a need for a similar transportation network in the United States. Through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, he initiated the construction of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highway.
The 40k-mile highway stretches from Baltimore, Maryland to Cove Fort, Utah, with 424-miles crossing the state of Kansas and 22+ miles crossing Trego County. It was considered the “highway of the future” at the time, and over the last five decades it has become an important link that continues to benefit the people of our communities.
When Western Kansas drivers first took to the road in 1960 there were a few changes to the way they drove. The State Highway Patrol addressed these issues in an article in the Western Kansas World called “Some Do’s and Don’ts on I-70.” Among their directions were: Traffic must travel between 40 and 70-miles an hour, drivers cannot cross the center lane, instructions to enter the highway, and where stop signs were placed in WaKeeney as a result of the additional traffic to the interstate.
Photo courtesy of the Trego County Historical Society
A Road to Northwest Kansas Attractions
I-70 takes travelers across many of Kansas’s unique events and attractions, including Cedar Bluff State Park in Trego County, Monument Rocks and Castle Rock in Gove County, and Little Jerusalem Badlands, Kansas’s newest state park in Logan County. Other places of note along the route are Sternberg Museum of Natural History (Hays), Fick Fossil and History Museum (Oakley), the Flint Hills Discovery Center (Manhattan), the Territorial Capitol Museum (Lecompton), and the newly renovated Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum (Abilene). Along the way you’ll also find a wide variety of restaurants, locally grown food, and unique shopping experiences.
Celebrating 50 Years of Travel on I-70
The Kansas I-70 Association, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by twelve Kansas communities including WaKeeney, is proud to celebrate 50 years of Interstate 70.
The current 16-member association includes Goodland, Colby, Oakley, WaKeeney, Hays, Russell, Salina, Abilene, Junction City, Manhattan, Lecompton, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Bonner Springs, Shawnee and Kansas City. Their goal is to achieve an economic benefit from tourism to their communities. Today, I-70 contributes more than 96,000 jobs and $11 billion dollars in trade and tourism dollars to the towns and cities along its route.
This summer take a drive on Interstate 70 and celebrate “America’s Main Street!”
*Because of closures/schedule changes due to COVID-19 please check availability before traveling.
Traveling down a country road is often the best way to explore the amazing beauty and many surprises found throughout Western Kansas. With that in mind we’ve compiled three day trips within Trego County that will delight and excite you as you cruise down the “road less traveled.”
NOTE: The bridge over the Cedar Bluff Reservoir spillway is currently under construction on K-147 until August 2020. The road is closed for 1.8 miles, but the rest of the highway is open to travelers. KDOT has created a 60-mile detour around the lake. For a shorter detour, take one of Trego County’s scenic country roads, such as TR CO U or X. Just make sure road conditions are good, especially after wet weather.
To get to the North Shore: Access to all the north side landmarks can be reached as usual from I-70 at the Ogallah exit traveling south on K-147. (Emanuel Lutheran Church, the Bluffton Campground, Cedar Bluff State Park’s office, Threshing Machine Canyon, and the BOD Marker)
To Get to the South Shore: Access the South Shore by traveling north on K-147 from Hwy 4 at Brownell. (Page Creek Campground, Agave Ridge Hiking Trail, and the Scenic Bluff Overlook)
Day Trip 1: The Smoky Valley Scenic Byway
Begin your exploration on the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway! There are eight features along the 60-mile route that offer insight into the landscape and history of the region.
Begin your drive by turning off I-70 at Ogallah and head south at Hwy. 147 and drive to the Emanuel Lutheran Church. Constructed in 1902 by Swedish immigrants using native limestone, it is a beautiful example of the craftsmanship of our early settlers.
As you continue drive on K-147 to the Bluffton area keep a sharp eye out for a quarried limestone post with “BOD 1865” carved into its front. It is located south of the turn into the park’s Bluffton Area and the Cedar Bluff State Park office. It marks the Butterfield Overland Despatchroute that took early pioneers to the goldmines in Colorado. It is one of several that trace the historic trail from Atchison, Kansas to Denver and was erected in the 1960s as a memorial to the arduous journey.Nearby, you can hike a trail leading to Threshing Machine Canyon where pioneers carved messages into the limestone rock as they traveled west.
The Cedar Bluff State Park office has several brochures that can add to your experience along the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, and park officials can give you tips to help you get the most out of your day trip, including spending time at the 350-acre Bluffton Area campground and picnic area.
NOTE: At this point, due to the bridge construction, you will either have to turn around and take the KDOT detour (60-miles) to the South Shore or take the shorter detour on the Trego County roads.
Suggested Alternative Route: We suggest a more scenic country road that starts at Trego CO CC Road from K-147 on the east side of the reservoir and connects to Hwy 283 on the west side. Follow the road, which eventually becomes Trego CO AA Road as it continues west, then turn toward the Scenic Bluff Overlook turnoff.
Once you reach the south side of the reservoir, we suggest taking the scenic country road to the Page Creek Area, the Agave Ridge Hiking Trail, and the Cedar Bluff Overlook. It’s a beautiful natural area where visitors often spot wildlife in the prairie grasses and along the shore.
The overlook boasts towering 100-foot limestone bluffs that is a perfect place to take in beautiful landscape and Cedar Bluff Reservoir.
When you reach Hwy. 283 turn north to WaKeeney and make a stop at the Wilcox School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1886. The limestone was quarried along the Smoky Hill River and brought to the site by local stonemasons. For sixty years it was used as a school and community center, and eventually a motorcycle club claimed it as their clubhouse. Today, you’ll find informative panels that provide details into the history of the building, the region, and the wildflowers growing in the area.
Get to know our prairie better at the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway Kiosk. It is full of information about the surrounding flora and fauna and interesting historical facts that occurred in the area.
Look for a beautiful example of early Volga-German construction at the Zion Lutheran Church. Built in 1905,it continues to be an active church, with many of the original descendants still filling the pews.
This family-owned winery was founded in 2008 by Kirk & Treva Johnston and is the only vineyard located in Western Kansas. All varieties of their wine are produced from fruit harvested on the Johnston family farm and includes dry whites, dry reds, semi-sweet white, fruit, and dessert wines. Shiloh offers regular wine tastings and an informative tour of the production facility, vineyard, and surrounding landscape. They often host special events and classes throughout the year. To get to Shiloh Vineyard travel west from WaKeeney on I-70 seven miles to Exit #120 on Voda Road. Turn south on Voda Road/180 Avenue and travel 4 1/2 miles to M Road. Turn west on M Road and drive 1-mile to the vineyard.
Day Trip 3: Castle Rock
Take a trip into the past with a visit to Castle Rock, one of the most notable features on our prairie. The large chalk pillar was formed from limestone deposits during the mid- to late Cretaceous period when a great inland sea divided North America. Designated as one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas,” it was used as a landmark for pioneers and has become a favorite among today’s fossil hunters. To find Castle Rock take I-70 at Exit #115 to Collyer, turn south on Banner Road/130 Avenue and travel for approximately 12.4 miles to TR CO U. Turn west on TR CO U Rd and travel approximately 2.8 miles. You will be traveling from Trego County to Gove County, where the road becomes GO CO K. Turn into the pasture at the Castle Rock sign, cross the cattle guard, and stop at the overlook to enjoy the view below of Castle Rock and it’s nearby rocky neighbor call the Badlands. You may drive down into the valley below but pay attention to the road conditions and the weather as the chalk dust can get slick and sticky.
Before you head out on your day trip through Trego County grab aWaKeeney Visitor’s Guide & Map. In it you’ll find all the roads in Trego County mapped out for you to explore “off the beaten path” where the scenery and landscape come alive. You can find them at many different locations in WaKeeney or at the Cedar Bluff Office at the North Shore or at Sport Haven.
See Western Kansas’s beauty, grandeur, and historical significance on a day trip through Trego County!
Throughout Trego County you’ll find unique white rock formations breaking through our vast prairie. These chalky outcroppings are evidence of the great Western Inland Seaway that divided the North American continent millions of years ago. Today, you’ll find the same rock has been used in many of the most notable buildings you’ll find on the Great Plains.
The majority of the limestone found within Trego County’s borders is classified as Niobrara Chalk, a geologic deposit created between 85 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. It is a soft stone formed from calcium deposits that easily flakes apart to reveal fossils of plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, pterosaurs, sharks, and primitive aquatic birds.
Fossilized Oyster Shells, Image by James St. John
Geological maps show the largest deposits of Niobrara Chalk limestone are located in the southern section of Trego County in the Smoky Hill River Valley, where you’ll find exposed sections at Cedar Bluff Overlook in the Cedar Bluff State Park and Castle Rock southwest of Collyer. More examples are to be found at Monument Rocks in neighboring Gove County and at Little Jerusalem, Kansas’s newest state park which is located south of Oakley. For a tour of these sites head south from WaKeeney on Hwy. 283 to begin at Cedar Bluff State Park & Reservoir, then follow the Smoky Hill River Valley west to each of these formations in Trego, Gove, and Logan Counties.
Greenhorn limestone, or Post Rock, is a hard limestone found along Trego County’s eastern border. It was formed during the Late Cretaceous period along with Niobrara limestone and includes many of the same marine animal fossils found in the softer, chalky variety of limestone. Today, it is quarried along the eastern border of Trego County.
Due to the lack of wood on the grassy prairie, Post Rock limestone was a primarybuilding materialin the 1800’s. Many early construction projects in Trego County relied on this hard stone, when city founders Albert Warren and James Keeney created their “Queen City of the High Plains.” Here are a few of the most notable buildings that utilized limestone quarried in Trego County.
The Trego County Courthouse
Built between 1888-1889, the grand Trego County Courthouse is an American Queen Anne style building. At the time of its construction it featured an Elizabethan frontage and a 100-foot cupola imported from Europe. The limestone used on its exterior is Post Rock that was quarried locally, as well as limestone brought from Manhattan, KS.
The building has undergone a few changes since its construction, but still retains its original limestone exterior.
Kansas Pacific Railway Depot
WaKeeney’s Kansas Pacific Railway Depot was an ornate railway station completed in 1879 with limestone found along the Saline River and Big Creek. On July 4, 1879, Warren, Keeney & Co. held a grand celebration to advertise their land sales. The Governor of Kansas was present and made a speech from the new depot’s platform. At the time, the magnificent, stone railway depot was described as the best and most modern facility between Kansas City and Denver. It was acquired by the Union Pacific Railroad and housed their operations until the 1930’s, and later demolished.
WaKeeney Opera House
One of the most impressive limestone buildings in Trego County was the WaKeeney Opera House. In 1884, this large, attractive building was the center of WaKeeney’s activities, and entertainment. It had a seating capacity of 400 and featured ornate murals on the ceiling and walls and a large brass chandelier with Rochester electric lamps. The Oprah House cost $20,000 to build andhoused grocery stores, newspapers offices, land offices, real estate agents, the post office, a bank, the school, and the opera hall. This fine example of Great Plains architecture was destroyed by fire on February 4, 1895 and today the site is home to the Trego County Health Department.
Emanuel Lutheran Church
Today’s Emanuel Lutheran Church used limestone quarried from nearby Threshing Machine Canyon located along the Smoky Hill Trail. It was built by Swedish immigrants in 1902 and was originally christened as the Swedish Evangelical Emmanuel Lutheran Church.
WaKeeney Municipal Building
The WaKeeney Municipal Building was a project planned in 1937 by the Work Project Administration (WPA) as part of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative. It incorporates native limestone blocks in a modern design, with a broad staircase that leads up to a sheltered portico.
The Wilcox School
The Wilcox School, a one-room schoolhouse located 16-miles south of WaKeeney, was built in 1886 with limestone quarried by area’s early settlers along the Smoky Hill River. They cut it from the river’s south shore and hauled the stone to the building site across natural fords or low-water bridges. Visitors can see this historic landmark up close by traveling south on Hwy. 283.
A more recent addition of Post Rock to our landscape are the B.O.D. markers travelers can follow along the historic route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch, Smoky Hill Trail. In 1960, Historian Howard C. Raynesford of Ellis, KS researched the location of the trail and had the posts erected at points where it crossed a North/South road. The markers are engraved with “BOD – 1865” and stand on a concrete base that offers more information.
Visit the Trego County Historical Museum
To learn more about our region’s limestone deposits we invite you to visit the Trego County Historical Society Museum. Don’t forget to check out the Purinton Fossil Collection which includes many fine examples Cretaceous period creatures that were in both Niobrara and Post Rock limestone.
As part of its yearlong Golden Anniversary celebration, the Trego County Historical Society and Trego Travel & Tourism will be welcoming two tourism experts from the Kansas Sampler Foundation to share stories of the people, places, and activities found in their book, the Kansas Guidebook 2 on June 9th at 2pm at the museum.
Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe have spent four years visiting every one of the 626 incorporated cities in Kansas. In their guidebook they detail stories, tips, and images from the road that are meant to stir your curiosity and get you excited for a summer of fun in the Sunflower state.
“We will take the audience on a picture journey through the state, sharing road trip ideas and telling stories about our adventures,” said Penner, “From restaurant suggestions to art, architecture, history, geography and more, we’ll give you a sampling of what to see in Kansas.“
The guidebook offers a wide array of interesting stops to explore, including historic sites, specialty shops, little known points-of-interest, cemetery finds, bike trails and backroad scenic drives statewide. “There really is something for everyone,” Rowe tells us. “Whether you are looking for outdoor sites or ways to get to know a town.”
After the program, the co-authors will sign and sell the Kansas Guidebook 2. The 480-page, coil-bound book can be used to plan your next Kansas road trip. The 4,500 entries provide descriptions, directions, hours, and contact information and there are more than 1,600 color pictures. You’ll even find information about our Trego County treasures!
Penner and Rowe are founders of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, who’s mission is to preserve and sustain rural culture. The guidebook is a helpful tool they offer people who are interested in the history of our state and want information and tips to plan their own journey across the state. “Though the book reads like a travel guide, it’s intended to help people get to know the state and learn about Kansas towns of every size,” Penner states.
A New Collection at the Museum
The museum is also currently featuring a unique souvenir china collection dating the early 20th century and donated by Harold and Marcia Newcomer. The collection includes an array of pieces that will join the collection of souvenir china this is already part of the museum’s exhibition.
Ride along with authors Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe when they present their Kansas Guidebook 2 at the Trego County Historical Society Museum on June 9th at 2pm. Their insights will help you plan your next Kansas adventure!