CLINTON, Mo. — The Katy Trail in Missouri, as I’ve written previously in this blog, is a splendid example of recycling.
The entire trail is a state park — 225 miles long and about 100 feet wide. It stretches from the western terminus at the farming town of 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.
A bicycling friend, Dean Wisleder of Springfield, Ill., and I plan to set out on the trail Monday morning and arrive in St. Charles on Thursday. Dean rode the trail from the east during this past week, arrived in Clinton on Saturday, and will turn around and head back to St. Charles with me on Sunday. We plan to ride about 62 miles the first day, to Pilot Grove.
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.
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 opportunity 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. Plans are in the works to extend the Katy Trail the remaining 75 miles to the northwest to Kansas City.
Every summer, the The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri State Parks Foundation organize a ride along the Katy. This year’s ride, the 10th annual, was called “Cruisin’ on the Katy” and was held June 21-25.
St. Charles, the endpoint of our ride, was an early stop on Lewis and Clark’s journey to the West.
The Corps of Discovery 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.”
St. Charles is only about 30 miles miles from my hometown, Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi River just upstream from the confluence with the Missouri. After our arrival in St. Charles on Thursday — legs willing — I plan to ride farm roads through St. Charles County and cross the Mississippi to Alton for a 50th high school reunion over Labor Day weekend.