First, there was the cabin.
Then, the song.
And now, there could be the highway.
Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, proposed a bill last week to name a 17-mile stretch of the K-8 highway the Home on the Range Memorial Highway.
The highway would start at U.S. 36, west of Smith Center, and run north to the Nebraska state line.
“It is a way to call attention to the cabin,” Bowers said of the bill, SB 43.
To become law, the bill would have to make it out of the Senate Transportation Committee and then be approved by the Senate and House.
If approved, then ideally, Bowers said, “I would like to have the governor sign the bill in the Home on the Range cabin.”
Nearly 143 years ago, Brewster Higley homesteaded and built a cabin on the banks of Beaver Creek in Smith County. A year later, he penned the words to what would eventually become one of the most famous cowboy folk songs and the official state song of Kansas.
Three years ago, the Higley cabin was in desperate need of repair. As Kansas celebrated its 150th anniversary of statehood in 2011, a grassroots effort formed to renovate the cabin, which in 1973 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
More than $113,000 — much of it from the Sedgwick County area — was raised to preserve and restore the cabin to its original integrity. Some of the money was used to build nature walks, footbridges and wheelchair-accessible entry to the cabin.
Now, the cabin and those grounds are ready for visitors to enjoy the Home on the Range experience, said El Dean Holthus, whose aunt and uncle, Ellen and Pete Rust, owned the property for nearly 75 years. He credits them with saving the cabin.
All that is needed is creating more awareness about the cabin, he said.
In addition to the highway bill, a “Home on the Range” documentary is being planned by Ken Spurgeon, a Kansas historian and filmmaker.
“I never dreamed anything like this would happen,” Holthus said of the possible highway designation. “The senator is a good friend to Home on the Range.”
Holthus said that on Monday of last week, he sent Bowers an e-mail “saying sometime – maybe if it works — would it be possible for a designation? On Tuesday, she sent me a draft of the bill. And, on Wednesday, she submitted the bill.
“That’s how fast it worked in getting it started and introduced.”
If everything is approved, Holthus said, and the highway is designated, there will need to be signs on the highway. He has estimated that those will cost about $5,000. That money would be raised through private donations, he said.
The cabin is a 3 1/2-hour drive from Wichita and is near the Kansas-Nebraska state line. It is 8 miles north of Athol on K-8, then 1 mile west.