National Trails System Act, Public Law 90-543 (dated October 2, 1968) as amended
Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (dated March 30, 2009)
With a transmittal letter dated May 17, 2019 and released in June 2019, the U.S. Department of the Interior transmitted to Congress its findings about the proposed designation of the Chisholm and Western Trails as National Historic Trails. The study found that public comments were overwhelmingly supportive, and that the trails meet the criteria for national historic trail designation. However, the agency does not support additional designations at this time due to a large backlog of unfunded deferred maintenance on existing trails.
Under the National Trails System Act, only the Congress can designate a National Historic Trail.
In 2009, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to evaluate the Chisholm Trail from Cuero and San Antonio, Texas northward through Oklahoma to Abilene, Kansas; and the Western Trail from San Antonio, Texas northward through Oklahoma and Dodge City, Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska.
Twelve public meetings were held with 326 people in attendance representing 118 organizations at various locations across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Written comments were received from more than 200 persons. Virtually all written comments showed support for designation.
Federal law requires that three criteria be met:
It must be a trail or route established by historic use and must be historically significant as a result of that use.
It must be of national significance and have had a broad impact on patterns of American culture.
It must have significant potential for historical interest based on historical interpretation and appreciation.
After extensive study, in 2015, the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service found that the Chisholm and Western Trails met these criteria. Below are some highlights.
Estimated cost of federal land acquisition is zero. The report states: “No federal land acquisition is anticipated. No lands or interests in lands shall be acquired by the federal government without the consent of the owner.”
The finding of historic significance was peer-reviewed by university professors and the four state preservation officers along the various routes. One hundred reference works were cited in the study.
The trails were found to be of national significance in four ways: 1. Developing the American economy through exchange and trade, 2. Developing the American economy through distribution, consumption, transportation and communication, 3. Peopling places, and 4. Expressing cultural values.
“The cattle drives had an enormous impact on popular culture…Writers and other observers quickly made the cowboy a uniquely American icon: tough, individualistic, hard-working and self-sufficient….This image, in time, spread out beyond the Great Plains to the remainder of the United States and to foreign lands as well.”
The 2015 feasibility study states: “This report..recommends that the trails be designated as the Chisholm National Historic Trail and Western National Historic Trail…”