Signs of life are appearing along the Prairie Spirit Trail. Literally.
Nathan Wiltsey, a Richmond resident and 15-year-old Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 126, Garnett, has undertaken a project to amplify patron understanding of the Rails-to-Trails Prairie Spirit Trail, which runs from the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, to Iola.
The project culminated Thursday morning as fellow scouts and family helped Wiltsey install interpretive signs along the trail. The signs include information on the ecology surrounding the trail, drawing patrons’ eyes to the local animal and plant life.
While hiking the trail with his troop last year, Wilstey saw an unfulfilled need, he said.
“Our troop took a hike on the trail, and I realized that there were a lot of things that most of us in our troop did not know about,” he said, in reference to the nature surrounding the trail. “I realized that, there could be even more people that aren’t scouts that could know even less about the trail. So I figured I could put the signs with information about plants and animals on the trail so that people could learn about them.”
The first sign was erected between Kingman and Rock Creek roads south of Ottawa, taking Wiltsey and his crew about 20 sweltering minutes to set.
It is a project that’s been months in the making.
“He started the project last year,” Tara Calley, Wiltsey’s mother, said. “He’s been working with Jim Manning. It took him quite a while.”
Manning is an official with the Kansas Division of Wildlife and Parks, who allowed Wiltsey to take vehicles up and down the trail for work.
“It was very difficult. It took awhile,” Wiltsey said.
In the end, compiling the information and obtaining raw materials for the signs proved more difficult than the actual setup, Wilstsey said.
“I had to get the names of all the animals, then I had to find the information, the pictures,” he said. “I had to send each sign individually to a graphics artist, he got everything lined up for the signs.”
As the project progressed, considerations arose he hadn’t thought of previously, Wiltsey said, such as sign height.
“I had to get it an average height, so it was easier for everyone to read,” he said.
Several Ottawa businesses pitched in for the project, including Universal Sign and Display, 1535 N. Industrial Ave., with Orscheln Farm and Home, 2008 S. Princeton St., and DIY Supply, 2204 S. Princeton Circle Drive, donating concrete.
“Digging wasn’t too difficult, and setting everything in wasn’t too difficult,” Wilstey said. “Just finding the materials.”
Trail patrons have been calling to inquire what the new posts along the trail were for, he said, adding the interest generated has been satisfying.
Turning from the finished sign and wiping his brow, Wilstsey offered practical advice for those thinking of undertaking similar community improvement projects.
“If it is a complex project, keep it simple. The design, I kept trying to over-complicate it when thinking about it,” he said. “It was really simple actually.”