Route 66 News

A new hill rises north of Galena

The bad news is Galena, Kansas, is home to a new hazardous waste dump north of town just off old Route 66.

The good news is the hill of contaminated soil is covered with native grass, and people who have seen the finished product say it’s not as ugly or as obtrusive as feared.

Renee Charles, who works with the city of Galena and is co-owner of Cars on the Route, emailed photos of the dump. It is near the old Eagle Picher plant, and less than a mile north of the historic Front Street Bridge, part of old Route 66.

She and other Galena residents expressed fear two years ago, when the dump was being planned, it would “affect the view of the thousands of foreign and domestic tourists that have been traveling the Route, it would stick out like a sore thumb. … We have just received our Historic Byway designation and it will not help the intrinsic value of that area.”

But, in a recent email, Charles acknowledged the site, which was finished a few weeks ago, “doesn’t look too bad.”

The contaminated soil came from decades of lead and zinc mining waste in the region. The Galena dump site has a concrete slab underneath to prevent leaching, and is overseen by the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment.

In many ways, this almost is a best-case scenario for a lead-mining town such as Galena. The town has been cleaned of much contaminated soil, the dump site is mostly unobtrusive, and downtown seems to be thriving after city officials spruced it up after noticing all the Route 66 tourists. And best of all, Galena isn’t as badly inflicted by piles of chat, or mining waste, as nearby Picher, Oklahoma. Despite millions of dollars in attempted cleanups, Picher never did escape problems caused by mining, and has become a ghost town.

I understand some people want Route 66 to be 2,400 miles of vistas. However, Route 66 is a complex microcosm of America … the beautiful intermingled with the ugly. You will encounter gorgeous areas in the Missouri Ozarks, Oklahoma ranch country, New Mexico mesas, Arizona’s red rocks, and California’s desert and beaches. But Route 66 also has junkyards, abandoned gas stations, stinky oil refineries, dusty feedlots and scenes of grinding poverty.

On Route 66, you’ll enjoy wide swaths of the road. But you also will learn a lot about America as well.