Big Ditch gets new name honoring designer

Posted: Updated:

"Literally to do something like this takes an Act of Congress," Rep. Ron Estes, (R - Kansas 4th District) said Wednesday morning.  "It's great to have a project like this and the visionary foresight of over half a century ago."

He joined several other community and state leaders at a park in Northwest Wichita to unveil an honor to the man some call a Wichita hero, M.S. Mitch Mitchell.  His work is still saving Wichitans millions in flood damage decades later.

"The rainfall record has been a reminder for all of us that M.S. Mitch Mitchell, affectionately known as Big Ditch Mitch, is a local hero," Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis said. 

Mitchell designed the Big Ditch and led the crews that dug the canal out.

It opened in 1952 at a cost of $20 million.

"If you look at the board there," Estes said pointing at a display now set up in the park, "and you look at the number of floods that have been averted since then, over and over again this has paid for itself."

"We owe much debt to Mitch," said Jeff Longwell, Wichita mayor.

Mitchell faced a lot of opposition getting the ditch dug out, sometimes violent opposition.

"As he staked out plans for the ditch he was often threatened.  The stakes he would put down would be plowed over by residents.  He was cursed at, shot at," said Longwell.

Many thought the ditch was too expensive.  Others didn't like it running through what was then profitable farmland well outside the city limits.  But Mitchell persevered.

By the time he passed in 2017, most had forgotten the controversy over the ditch.

Even his wife didn't really understand everything that was happening.

"I was just a local Wichitan that grew up, never really paid any attention to it until they began to talk about the losses that had happened," she said.  

While she knew Mitchell for 50 years, they were only married for about 8 years before his death.

After his death, those who knew Mitchell wanted to do something to honor him.  They decided the ditch, officially called the Wichita Valley Center Floodway Project, should be renamed in his honor.

Because the ditch was a partnership with the federal government, it took an Act of Congress to make the name change.  Congressman Ron Estes led the charge.  It took more than a year to get approval in the U.S. House alone.  But finally, both the House and Senate agreed and the president has signed the bill renaming the canal the M.S. Mitch Mitchell Floodway.

 "He deserves it.  Mitch deserves it," Pat said.