Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hutchinson is a Prairie Dog Town

I had never seen a prairie dog until I moved to Kansas. Since that time, I've had the opportunity to get very familiar with the little critters, as they are plentiful here.

I think they're pretty cute. Many native Kansans do not share my enthusiasm. As one told me, "If Lewis and Clark had called them the 'Prairie Rat' we'd already have wiped them out."

Prairie Dogs are communal creatures, living in groups. They build these little mounds, and have extensive tunnels underground. They take turns being the watch dogs, while others run around, doing whatever it is that they're busy doing.

Along K-61, right past the Hutchinson mall, is a large Prairie Dog Town. I've thought for years someone should turn it into a tourist attraction. Kansans look at me as if I've finally knocked loose the one lone marble that was keeping me barely over the edge of being considered sane.

Prairie Dogs have suffered the indignity of being vacuumed up and transplanted to other areas. The ones who survived the vacuumming, died afterwards, as they are territorial creatures. They've been gassed and shot and everything else you can think of. But, they persist.

Of course, those tunnels are counter productive to farming endeavors - particularly those involving live stock, which can be harmed by falling into the holes and tunnels.

A few years ago, prairie dogs took up residence on the other side of the mall, on property that looks like it should have a restaurant or store on it. They quickly colonized the property, dotting it with their mounds, and scurrying to and fro as you drive right by them, only feet away. The driveway is, I'm sure, what is keeping them from going further. The mall, Chilis and Red Lobster are to the west; Lowes and Walmart are to the north; and Home Depot is a little to the east and their closest neighbor.

Just recently, I noticed a new addition to the prairie dog town, that gives me hope the commercial entities have decided to have an uneasy peace with the prairie dogs. On the road where you enter the mall complex, there's a new sign.

For those of you who know of my fascination with signs, and how they can be different in different parts of the country, this one is a beauty. It is not an officially sanctioned State of Kansas sign. At least not yet.

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