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Monument plans to showcase ruts
January 19, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Wagon ruts, left behind from westward expansion in the 1800s, remain a historical treasure at Scotts Bluff National Monument – and the staff would like to make the public more aware of them.

Monument Superintendent Ken Mabery said they requested a study of the ruts and a report was completed in December 2010: “Oregon Trail Ruts Landscape Study and Environmental Assessment.”

“All of the five miles of ruts within the monument have now been studied and documented,” Mabery said. “We know their condition and what’s been done with them over the past 75 years or so. The environmental assessment section means we can now take action.”

Mabery said the study took an interesting approach that turned out to be very valuable for them. It examined the different sections of the trail for identifiable characteristics. Vulnerabilities of each section such as erosion, were also analyzed. The report made several recommendations as to preserving the ruts.

“The study identified six sections of ruts,” Mabery said. “Section A is the one that is now our interpretative trail from the monument headquarters out to the William Henry Jackson campsite. We have daily traffic through that area, so we needed to know what we could do to preserve the ruts. We often have to haul in dirt to repair the gulleys that have washed away from erosion.”

Mabery added the report answered many of their questions, which allowed them to put projects into the system. Some major changes to the interpretative trail section are planned over the next two to five years to better preserve the ruts.

Preservation recommendations for the other sections of the ruts were quite broad. “With the completion of the environmental assessment, we can do a wide variety of things,” Mabery said. “Our challenge is to determine what we can afford to do and should do within the next three to five years,” he said. “I’ve challenged my staff to think of ways we can draw more attention to the ruts outside of the interpretative trail area.”

He added that with their concentration on the interpretative trail, the public has lost sight of the fact there are other ruts or they don’t know how to see them and look for them.

Aerial photographs of the area have revealed that seven separate sets of ruts passed together through some sections as westbound wagons spread out to reduce the dust problem.

“It’s different traffic patterns, even back then.” Mabery said. “We’re working on ways to share that with the public, how to make it come alive.”

Mabery said although the study is a year old, they now have the opportunity to apply with the National Park Service for internal grant funding for projects of that nature.
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