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Vandals damage state landmark

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

WESKAN -- Ed and Cindy Harold have had to deal with vandalism before.

So has Wallace County Sheriff Larry Townsend.

But never to this extreme.

"The one at Mount Sunflower is particularly disheartening," Townsend said. "The folks that own that go to a lot of effort to keep that open so people can visit it."

An individual, likely with a flatbed pickup, caused extensive damage to signs and markers on the state's highest point -- Mount Sunflower.

By the time the damage was done, a "Mount Sunflower" sign made of railroad spikes, created by Ed Harold, and a limestone marker commemorating his grandparent's homesteading of the land were severely damaged.

A limestone fence post and the mailbox containing a visitor's registration book also were damaged.

"We don't know when for sure, but it was probably the 6th to the 9th of the month," Harold said. "Without cattle up there, I don't get up there every day."

"It's up there all by itself," Townsend said, adding his department is trying to find out who did the damage.

"We're certainly working on it, and we hope we'll get someone," Townsend said.

Typically, Harold said, people are respectful of the property, although every couple years somebody shoots the registration mailbox.

This time around, the Mount Sunflower sign was backed into and pulled apart, and they backed into the limestone sign, breaking it in half.

"My uncle had put that sign up," Harold said, "commemorating my grandparents' homesteading of the land."

Harold has since moved the limestone marker down to his residence and is trying to repair it, so it can be returned to its rightful spot.

Ironically, he's also breathing a sigh of relief.

"They didn't do any damage to the big sign the chamber of commerce paid for," he said.

That sign recognizes Mount Sunflower as the highest point in Kansas, with an elevation of 4,039 feet above sea level.

"And they didn't do any damage to the railroad spike sunflower," he said, a creation frequently photographed by visitors.

Harold made both the Mount Sunflower sign and the sunflower, using railroad spikes picked up from the nearby Union Pacific Railroad.

Harold happened to make both items after being encouraged by the shop teacher at Weskan High School to take up a new wire welder and give it a try. Both Ed and Cindy Harold teach at Weskan.

The markers that were damaged were put up after the rolling hill about a mile from the Colorado border was designated as the highest point in Kansas.

It draws visitors from throughout the state, as well as people whose goal it is to climb the highest peaks in every state.

Somewhere between 700 and 1,200 people a year visit Mount Sunflower.

"I always say it's two people every day, 365 days a year," he said, although he admits some days no one shows up while other days an entire bus load will arrive.

Harold now must decide how to fix everything.

The railroad spike sign, he said, likely won't be going back up.

"The welding of those spikes was not as easy as I thought it would be," he said.