New byway intended to promote tourism

Robert Smith
This impressive sign welcomes motorists to the Osage Nation Heritage Trail, just outside Bartlesville on Highway 60. It is the largest element of a roadside turnout that also offers visitors information about the land, people and development of Osage County. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

If you drive back and forth between Pawhuska and Bartlesville on Highway 60 very much, you’ve probably noticed some eyecatching new signs along the road lately.

You’d have to be blind to miss the big orange bison-themed sign on the last hill above Bartlesville, and then there’s the ranch-style gateway perched on a hill to the south of Highway 60 some half-dozen miles or so from Pawhuska.

If you kept an eye peeled, you probably also noticed new signage at the veterans memorial in Pawhuska and at Ed Red Eagle Park.

These details you’re seeing are all elements of a new scenic byway, the Osage Nation Heritage Trail, which stretches from Bartlesville to Ponca City on Highway 60. The byway is about 65 miles long and its purpose is to encourage tourism by offering educational materials to motorists who choose to stop at the road turnouts along the way.

Justin Carr, director of the Osage Nation Roads Department, acknowledges the historical and cultural details but says the best way to understand the new scenic byway is that it’s 100 percent about tourism, and it’s more of an Osage County thing than just an Osage Nation thing.

The four themes around which the informational panels along the byway are organized are Osage County’s ranching heritage, its oil-business heritage, its tallgrass prairie background and the heritage of the Osage Nation. The Osage people bought reservation land in this area in 1872 and Osage County continues to be the home and headquarters of the Osage Nation.

Carr also explained that while the Osage Nation Roads Department coordinated and carried out the project, it had help from several other Osage Nation departments, and project collaborators included the chambers of commerce from Ponca City, Pawhuska and Bartlesville.

The construction is done for now and workers are just tidying up, said Jody Burd, construction manager for the ON Roads Department. More elements can be added to the byway later, he said.

Carr said the total available for the project was $841,000, but he thinks the actual expense may come in at less than that.

“So far, we’ve had real positive feedback,” Burd said.

Harold LaSarge, a planner, said said crews working on the byway project had opportunities to interact with motorists who stopped and talked as the work was still going on.

Kelly Bland, executive director of Osage County Tourism, comlimented the historical detail that the new signage at road turnouts is offering to visitors. Bland also noted the opportunity that the road turnouts give tourists to enjoy scenic views.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, executive of the Osage Nation, pointed out that the project required cooperation between the ON government and the national, state and local elements of the U.S. government.

“This is a fine example of the Osage Nation working together with the federal government, the state and Osage county to increase tourism and interest to the area,” Chief Standing Bear said.

Construction on the project began in the spring of this year and Bright Lighting, Inc. was a contractor on the job. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) played a key role by allowing construction to take place on its right-of-way property, so that land acquisition wasn’t an issue, Burd said.

If you’re from Pawhuska and know all about Osage County, the new scenic byway also offers you an opportunity to take friends and visitors from other areas on a bit of a guided tour. The infrastructure for your personal tour is all there — concrete turnouts at elevated locations, so your vehicle won’t get stuck and you won’t be in danger of being run over by traffic; and informational panels your visitors can read while they listen to you.