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Press Release

January 30, 2015

Contact: Kathy Dickson
Oklahoma Historical Society
Office: 405-522-5231

Park Service Report Released on the Chisholm and Great Western Trails

Oklahoma City, Okla. -- The National Park Service recently announced completion of the draft feasibility study/environmental assessment for the Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trail.

According to Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Park Service held numerous public meetings in communities along the proposed trail routes in 2010 and then began a four-year research project. The study released on January 5, 2015, documents the research results and environmental assessments. The public is invited to view and comment on the report through March 5, 2015. The report is available on the National Park Service website http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=30803.

"I encourage you to read the study and make comments for the Park Service to review. The designation of the Chisholm and Great Western as part of the National Trails System could have significant economic impact along the route and help spur preservation efforts," said Blackburn. The report recommends designating the trails separately but placing them under one administrative unit.

The year 2017 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, and communities along the trail are already preparing for the celebration. To help realize the education, programming and tourism potential of this epic event the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, Visit Enid and the Oklahoma Historical Society organized the Chisholm Trail 150th Coalition. Working with the group, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb invited communities along the trail to planning meetings in Duncan and Enid. There are no state funds or grants available, but the Chisholm Trail 150th Coalition developed a Chisholm Trail 150th logo and is working to organize partnerships to take advantage of pooled resources for promotion of the trail. One of the group's first projects was the design and printing of Chisholm Trail 150th rack cards, which are available through the Department of Tourism and Recreation and at travel centers. The Department of Tourism and Recreation will be taking the rack cards to venues in Germany at Leipzig, Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin and Augsburg as well as in Zurich, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; London, England; Dublin, Ireland; and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Lt. Gov. Lamb said, "This is a great opportunity to showcase our great state of Oklahoma to the world and to remind Oklahomans what is right in their own backyard."

Appropriately, the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan has taken the lead in organizing efforts, and in January launched a new website www.chisholmtrail150.org. According to Executive Director Stacy Cramer Moore, "We want this website to be a one-stop place for travelers to find out about events and attractions all along the trail. Keep checking back. As more partners are added, the events and attractions will continue to grow." 

Blackburn said, "Designation of the Chisholm and Great Western Trails as part of the National Trails System would help in the preservation and promotion of the trails by providing an administrative unit within the National Park Service to develop partnerships, mark and promote the route and encourage the investment of tourism and travel dollars along the trails." Blackburn continued, "Designation as a national long distance trail does not limit property owners' current or future use of their property."

In 2009 Congress directed the secretary of the interior to evaluate the Chisholm and Western Cattle Trails to determine if they meet the requirements to be included under the National Trails System Act. The area of study included the Chisholm Trail (also known as the Abilene Trail) from the vicinity of San Antonio, Texas, to Enid, Oklahoma, and on to Caldwell, Wichita, and Abilene, Kansas, and commonly used segments running to other Kansas destinations. Congress also directed the study of the Great Western Trail (also known as the Dodge City Trail) from San Antonio, Texas, north-by-northwest to Oklahoma, north thorough Dodge City, and on to Ogallala in Nebraska.

The Chisholm and the Great Western Trails came about just after the Civil War. During the war, Texas ranches were unmanaged, leaving the southern prairies teeming with cattle. Ranchers were "cattle poor." Too many cattle depressed prices. At the same time, markets in the East were in great need of beef. The eastern herds had been depleted to feed the army and civilians. By war's end, cattle worth $3 a head in Texas would bring between $40 and $60 in Chicago and New York. The problem was that no railroads yet reached the Texas plains. The solution was the great American cattle trails. "The cattle trail period lasted a brief time roughly from 1867 to 1885, but it remains a vital part of the image of the West in popular culture spawning cowboy songs, poetry, books, movies, and television shows," said Blackburn.

Many organizations and individuals have worked for decades to bring recognition to the heritage of cattle trails crossing Oklahoma. The designation of the Chisholm Trail as a federally recognized long distance trail has been the dream of noted Oklahoma amateur historian and former Oklahoma Historical Society board member Bob Klemme of Enid. Klemme is not one to sit back and say someone should do something. He personally took on the task of marking every section line the Chisholm Trail crossed in Oklahoma. He made a mold, purchased and mixed concrete and set the markers from the Kansas border to the Red River. It took seven years and 400 concrete signposts, but he completed his task. "I didn't do it for any glory or anything like that. I just made myself a promise that I was gonna mark it and I was gonna mark it every place it crosses a section line, and that's what I did," Klemme said.

The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains 31 museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the Oklahoma Historical Society visit www.okhistory.org.

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