Stuart West New Man on the Block
Description: Stuart West New Man on the Block.
New Man on the Block
by Ed Stafford
Stuart West is the new Superintendent at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. He has come at an auspicious time in the fort's history: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, which beat a path through the middle of Missouri and Kansas, a corner of Oklahoma, southeastern Colorado, and northern New Mexico. The trail passed right through Bent's Old Fort, which makes it an ideal backdrop for the trail's bicentennial.
It is also the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Santa Fe Trail Association, created to study and preserve trail history. This national and international organization was founded in 1986. It is this organization that is meeting at Bent's Old Fort NHS at La Junta, CO, in September of this year for a symposium sponsored by the Bent's Fort Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association.
Park Superintendent West has arrived at his new assignment just in time to oversee the fort's involvement in this major event. And, he comes with high hopes: "I hope this event will bring more than Santa Fe Trail
Association members. I'd like it to reach out to a much larger audience, to people who may not know why the fort is here. They should experience the fort as it was in the 1840s. This is a great opportunity to learn from living historians," interpreters dressed in period clothing and enacting what life was like back then in this wonderfully recreated setting.
Bent's Old Fort was reconstructed on the footprint of the 19th century fort by the National Park Service for this very reason, as a laboratory where students of history can study how life was lived in this most famous trading post on one of the most famous commercial routes between America and the Southwest in the mid-1800s.
"I hope," Superintendent West continues, "their takeaway is not just the history of Bent's Old Fort. I hope it is a discovery of Southeastern Colorado--Boggsville (near Las Animas), Ft. Lyon, Bent's New Fort (which William Bent constructed after the old fort was abandoned), and the Sand Creek massacre, so that when people think of Bent's Old Fort, they understand its link to the whole region."
Superintendent West has been in the Park Service for 34 years, 10 years in interpretation and the rest in law enforcement. A native of Virginia, he holds a bachelor's degree in Forestry and Park Management from Virginia Tech and graduated from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy. He arrived in La Junta, where he makes his home, in October of 2019. Previous assignments with the NPS have taken him to Prince William Forest Park, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Buffalo National River in Arkansas, and "a handful of small parks in Virginia and Maryland." Most recently, for 16 years, he was stationed at Acadia National Park in Maine.
"This is the first time I have lived in the Plains-Grasslands environment," he says. "It's really a treat to be greeted with beautiful the sunrises and sunsets every day." He says a big difference between La Junta and other places he has lived "is the community. People who live in La Junta are super, super nice."
But, he says, when he asks the local people when they had last been to Bent's Fort, they say they haven't been there for a long time, and for some reason they haven't returned. "The online reviews of the park are very high, and the interpreters who work at the fort are exceptional, so we are exploring why we don't get more repeat visitors. The neighboring communities are clearly proud to have the fort in their backyard. We'd just like to see them more often. I hope to entice them back time and time again."
In preparation for the Sept. 23-26 symposium, he and the park staff have moved the picnic area to beneath the shade shelter adjoining the parking area, they have planted trees that will eventually screen out unwanted modern intrusions, they are in the process of resurfacing the hiking trails to make them ADA accessible, and they are reconfiguring the fort corral to make room for a "lunging area" and a goat pen. "I think people who are familiar with the Fort will see some changes. I hope they will find them favorable," he says.
The theme of the SFTA symposium at the Fort and in La Junta this year is "The Santa Fe Trail Lives On: 200 Years of Commerce and Cultural Connections." For information and registration, visit the website 2021sfts.com.
Follow SECO News on Facebook: