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Sinkhole draws a crowd





WALLACE -- Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been heading north out of this Wallace County community of just 53 residents, en route to a much-talked-about sinkhole.

That's the estimate from Wallace resident and Mayor Lyle Hammer, who has been asked for directions from a handful of the people heading to the new geologic wonder that sits back nearly 1.5 miles from the nearest road. He even saw a bus with Gove County tags heading north out of Wallace on Sunday, on its way to the sinkhole.

"There's lots of people," he said Monday. "I would say thousands now. Vans and SUVs and then the bus yesterday."

There's a pair of well-worn paths through the pasture leading to the sinkhole, which Wallace County Sheriff Larry Townsend said "at its widest is between 200 and 300 feet" across. "And it's every bit of 90 feet deep."

Townsend marvels at the attention that's come to focus on the sinkhole, about a half-mile from the closest home and nearly 9 miles from Wallace.

"It must be a slow news week," he joked.

But his office has been receiving an abundance of calls, including the New York Daily News and the New York bureau of ABC News.

His office also fielded calls from Canadian media as well, along with an irate call from an Oklahoma geologist who insisted the sheriff's office immediately close the site to the public.

That was already in the works, however, as owners of the land where the sinkhole occurred put up a pair of "no trespassing" signs at field entrances leading to the site.

Townsend said owners of the land aren't interested in talking about the site, and he plans to honor that sentiment.

Still, the sheer number of people heading to the site has been a concern for the landowners and Townsend.

Many, Townsend said, have been standing at the rim of the collapse, never mind the wave of cracks -- some inches wide and more than 4 feet deep, observers say -- radiating around the site as much as 50 yards from the edge.

There's also been a steady stream of people walking into the sinkhole, even though the soil sides have pulled away and could collapse at any time.

It's only a matter of time before the sinkhole expands, Townsend said.

Wallace County residents have been taking the sinkhole in stride, although many have gone to take a look. City of Wallace residents, however, have taken umbrage with reports of the sinkhole being north of Sharon Springs; it's actually north of Wallace.

The sinkhole's the talk of the town at Stephen's Restaurant in Sharon Springs, where Townsend took in the special of the day Monday, a welcome diversion from the ongoing drought that has all but decimated dryland crops and forced ranchers to sell nearly 75 percent of the cattle in the county.

But Wallace County, Townsend said, is used to sinkholes.

There are as many as three others in the pasture where the latest formed, and two others on a statewide inventory.

One, the Smoky Basin Cave-in east of Sharon Springs, developed in 1926. It's not known when Old Maid's Pool northwest of Sharon Springs formed, although it's just recently gone dry, the first time anyone can remember.

Nearby rancher Von Chisum said it's been there as long as he's been around.

Chisum said he's 90 years old and just learned it had gone dry.

"I'd never seen it dry," he said.

"It's dry now," Hammer said. "It hasn't been dry in years.

Hammer normally keeps cattle in the pasture watered by the sinkhole but pulled them off after it went dry.

"This is what they turn into after quite a few years," Townsend said, pointing to the Old Maid's Pool.