Cruisin’ on the Katy Trail

Katy Trail logoThe Katy Trail in Missouri is a splendid example of taking something no longer needed, the right-of-way of a defunct railroad, and turning it into something extremely useful and pleasing, a cycling and jogging path traversing almost the width of the state.
The entire trail is a state park — 225 miles long and about 100 yards wide. It stretches from the western terminus at Clinton, about 75 miles southeast of Kansas City, to St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis. More than half of the trail tracks the Missouri River, the route used by Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase for President Thomas Jefferson.
My wife’s brother Jim Finney, their cousin Laura Karr and I plan to ride the Katy Trail next week, starting Thursday from Clinton and finishing Sunday in St. Charles. Laura, who lives in St. Louis, has ridden the trail multiple times. I’ve ridden it once, in 2005, with my wife, Mary Ellen. It was her first, and only, long-distance bike ride. She was miserable during most of the trip, but afterward called the ride “awesome.” She did the whole thing on a big, clunky comfort bike.
KatyTrailParkThe Katy Trail State Park is built on what was once the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (the MKT, or Katy). It’s the longest developed rail-to-trail project in the United States — for the time being. The Cowboy Trail, being developed in Nebraska, will extend for 321 miles across the northern part of the state along what was once part of the Chicago & North Western Railroad’s Cowboy Line.
The Cowboy Trail will stretch from Norfolk in the east to Chadron in the west, passing through the farmland of the Elkhorn River valley, into plains ranchland, across a 148-foot-high bridge over the Niobrara River at Valentine and along the northern Sandhills.
When the MKT Railroad ceased operating its line between Machens in St. Charles County and Sedalia in 1986, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources had the chance to acquire the right-of-way under the National Trails System Act, which provides that railroad corridors no longer needed for active rail service can be “banked” for future transportation needs and used on an interim basis as recreational trails. In 1991, the Union Pacific Railroad donated to the state an additional 33 miles of rail corridor from Sedalia to just east of Clinton. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has proposed extending the Katy Trail the remaining 75 miles to the northwest to Kansas City.
Bluffs along Katy TrailEvery summer, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri State Parks Foundation organize a ride along the Katy. This year’s ride, the ninth, is called “Cruisin’ on the Katy” and will be held June 22-26.
St. Charles, the endpoint of our ride, is only a few miles from my hometown, Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi River, and from the starting point of the Corps of Discovery’s journey to the West.
The Corps spent the winter of 1803-1804 at Camp Dubois, on the Mississippi in Illinois across from the mouth of the Missouri. They set out on May 14, 1804, and on May 16 put in at St. Charles, then a town of about 450 inhabitants, to adjust the load in their keelboat and await the arrival of Lewis, who had been conducting last-minute business in St. Louis.
Clark called the people of St. Charles “pore, polite & harmonious.” Lewis found them “miserably pour, illiterate and when at home excessively lazy.”


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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys

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