Monday, April 30, 2012

Kansas Underground Salt Museum Celebrates 5 Years

The Kansas Underground Salt Museum (KUSM) is celebrating five years open tomorrow. It opened the doors May 1, 2007. Tonight they had an event with some of the folks who have made it possible over the years - from board members and volunteers to people who had the vision to make it happen.

The KUSM is a marvel on many levels. In a nutshell, it's the only place in the western hemisphere where you can go 650 feet underground and visit a salt mine. There is nothing about the experience that's not cool. What else needs be said?

But, of course, these things do not happen by accident. Tonight was a recognition of the effort it took to get to this point.

Jay Smith, who was the director of the museum, who spearheaded the effort that resulted in the tourist attraction we have today, was visiting. He spoke and said, "It took courage" on the part of many people to make it happen. In his initial conversations with Underground Vaults and Storage and the mining company he said they told him all the reasons it would be difficult and the reasons not to do it, but they didn't say "no."

Because there was nothing like it, there was no precedent. They used the Space Needle in Seattle as an example, but this was something very different. He said something that kept him going was hearing people talk about visiting the Carey Salt Mine in the sixties. He knew being underground left an impression on people.

This wasn't the first attempt at finding a way to create an attraction like this - the conversation had come up now and then for decades. But, this time it came to fruition.

Smith left Hutchinson before KUSM opened. Linda Schmitt has been the director during the five years it has been open to the public. She told some funny stories about mishaps over the years - nothing major, just minor things - like a tram driver missing a turn the first day and getting a group "lost." What she realized was that none of the visitors were upset. It was just part of the adventure.

Linda summed things up with, "Our main mission will continue to be to share this magnificent, unique, wonderful, underground place. That will be our priority forever."

The program tonight had a timeline of the last five years. One of the challenges was something you might not think about - how to get bathrooms to work. Flushing up, 650 feet, is not something most people need to do. But, there have been flushing toilets underground since August of 2007. And, just recently, the main restrooms near the event center underground have opened. I couldn't resist a photo.

Yes, that's right - there's a salt wall in both the ladies and mens rooms. How can you not love that?

One of the things Linda did that I just loved was bought a train from the Hutchinson Zoo in 2009. Years ago, the salt was moved in the mine on train track, so it's appropriate there be a train underground.

Tonight Greg and I took a ride on the train, which goes through some of the mined out areas.

There's an adage that what goes to the mine, stays in the mine, and you can see evidence of that on this ride. Even the trash stayed down under.

Of course, things change over time. This "trash" is now considered artifacts. Included in this trash pile is a 1953 calendar

Ironically, the trash can found with it was empty.

Of course, you know how I love a train!

You may not know how much Greg loves a train, which is even more than me.

The Kansas Underground Salt Museum is amazingly cool. If you haven't been, come and visit. It's one of two world-class attractions we have in Hutchinson, and I absolutely love it. I look for pretty much any reason to go underground.

I was honored to be invited to attend tonight.


Read my earlier stories about KUSM:
A story about the museum with great photos Greg took -

Scientists and 250 Million Year old bacteria -

Dr. Vreeland at the Dillon Lecture -

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1 comment:

Judith Robl said...

Sounds fascinating, but those of us who are deathly claustrophobic will NOT be participating. Glad you had a good time.