Controversial monument now center of attraction

Thursday, August 10, 2017

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said John “Hannibal” Smith on the old “A-Team” television show, usually after an unlikely, entertaining series of events.

The city of Alliance might have the same sentiment.

The Northwest Nebraska town expects a deluge of visitors to arrive in time to see the total eclipse sweep through on Aug. 21.

The town plans concerts, a softball tournament for 30 teams, Native American pow-wow and church socials.

Gov. Pete Ricketts will be among those viewing the event at Carhenge, just north of town, which draws visitors year-round, but is ground zero for Eclipse 2017 in Nebraska.

Jim Reinders didn’t have an eclipse in mind when he hatched the plan to build a copy of England’s Stonehenge back in 1987.

Since stone blocks are in short supply in Nebraska, he used the next best thing; junked cars that are essentially stones on rollers.

Reinders, a petroleum engineer who spent many years in England, thought it might be a fitting tribute to his father, who passed away a few years earlier.

The whole plan came together at a family reunion, with “a lot of blood, sweat and beers,” Reinders used to say.

Not everybody appreciated the artistic effort, of course, including officials who had had zoning jurisdiction and threatened to dismantle the monument.

In the end, the city wound up owning its most important attraction and the controversy only added to its cachet as a recognized example of folk art. It’s been the subject of documentaries and made appearances in several Hollywood movies and is one of the most photographed sites in the state.

Plus, it was built without tax dollars or even a tourism grant.

Cities certainly need regulations to preserve order and protect property values, but there’s a fine line between appropriate regulation and stifling citizens’ creativity.

A week from Monday, thousands of Alliance visitors will enjoy an example of the latter.

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