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Posted on Sun, Sep. 26, 2004

Hit the books, then hit the Katy Trail


Trek along Missouri's Katy Trail should begin with pages printed and electronic



Photos by JOHN MARK EBERHART/The Kansas City StarJOHN MARK EBERHART/The Kansas City Star
A restored Missouri-Kansas-Texas caboose greets riders and hikers at the Katy's St. Charles trailhead.The Katy's westernmost leg, from Clinton to Boonville, rolls through Missouri hills and pastures. But the section from Boonville to St. Charles is flatter and generally follows the course of the Missouri River.A restored Missouri-Kansas-Texas caboose greets riders and hikers at the Katy's St. Charles trailhead.



The wretch was miserable.

He was too tall for his borrowed mountain bike; the handlebars were too low, and his clutching fingers kept going numb. He was ravenous because he had not packed food or a trail guide that listed lunch spots. He was chilled because the wind off the Missouri River was colder than it should have been for October.

I was that wretch. And I still had four days of riding to go.

That was my introduction to Katy Trail State Park, the 225-mile hiking/biking track between Clinton and St. Charles. I completed my trek, but only because a bike mechanic and other folks showed me some Missouri kindness.

I took that solo tour in 2001. This fall I'm riding with my wife. I've spent weeks planning the trip, because if she has to deal with leaden fingers and abject hunger, they'll upbraid me.

Done wisely, the Katy Trail is a grand experience. Actually it was great even on my 2001 trip, once I'd worked out the bugs. But preparation makes it better. Take my word: The most important steps on this journey come before you hit the trail.

In today's column I'm sharing written resources on the Katy. That done, I'll pass on insights from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the trail, and finally my own thoughts on a worthy goal: Bringing Katy to Kansas City.

Guideposts

• I would have been fine three years ago if I'd bought The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook, by Brett Dufur (192 pages; Pebble Publishing; $16.95 paperback). Now in its seventh edition, it provides information on eateries, lodging, camping, sightseeing — and that business establishment all Katy cyclists hope they won't need but consider a godsend if they do: the bike repair shop. Dufur has been updating the book since 1995, and it's good to have in your pannier as businesses on the trail close and new ones open.

• The official Katy Trail Web site at http://www.mostateparks.com/katytrail/index.html. It is feasible to plan a Katy ride or hike using this site and nothing else. The best feature is the interactive map. Click on the name of any town or trailhead along the Katy, and the link leads you to essential information. Move your mouse to “Sedalia” and you'll see a dozen restaurants and half that number of lodging options. Then click on the “Greens Bottom Road” trailhead. Despite being just a few miles from bustling St. Charles near the trail's east end, Greens Bottom is a bust. If you need anything but a restroom, tough. This site is well-maintained but could be better if it were updated more often. At this writing, there's a new eatery in Rocheport that's not listed.

• Hiking Kansas City, by William B. Eddy & Richard O. Ballentine (192 pages; Pebble Publishing; $14.95 paperback). Though the focus is on trails in the KC area, this book does feature a Katy section. It's basic but gives you the idea. If hiking around here is your main interest, but you're thinking about a day walk or short bike trip on the Katy, this'll do.

• The http://www.katycentral.com Web site is a resource developed by a group of mid-Missouri communities along the trail, including Jefferson City and Hermann. It offers details on lodging and campgrounds, among other things.

• An excellent resource on the Web is http://www.bikekatytrail.com, which of course is geared to the cyclist, not the hiker. The site has maps, plus information on businesses that I have not seen elsewhere. And the section in which riders share their experiences will have novices taking notes and veterans nodding in commiseration.

Goals

Though some other projects are in development elsewhere in the nation, the Katy at this writing is America's longest rails-to-trails project. “Rails to trails” is just that: converting abandoned rail lines into recreation.

The Katy is based on an old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line from Machens to Sedalia. The trains stopped running in 1986, and the state acquired the corridor. Five years later Union Pacific provided land between Sedalia and Clinton, allowing Missouri to develop the 225-mile route.

“We consider it to be very successful,” said Sue Holst of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City. “It has a national reputation.”

Or even international. Surf the Web and you'll find accounts of trips taken not only by folk from other U.S. states but also Europe. Counting day trippers and those who hike or bike the whole thing, the Katy draws 300,000 to 400,000 users per year, Holst said.

The Katy has been a boon to towns that had thrived as rail or river cities but had decayed.

“If you go to Rocheport or Hartsburg or Marthasville, a renaissance has happened,” Holst said. “There are businesses that have been created especially for trail users.”

But tasks remain. A 12-mile section from St. Charles to Machens in the St. Louis area remains undeveloped. The state is working with local levee districts to obtain a right of way, Holst said.

More enticing for Kansas Citians: The notion of getting the trail from the Clinton area to Cowtown. For several years the “Questions and User Comments” section of the official Web site has stated, “It is the Department of Natural Resources' desire to link Katy Trail State Park with Kansas City and we are looking at possible routes.”

“We're still trying to find a way to do that,” Holst said last month.

One avenue under discussion is incorporating a section of the old Rock Island Line, which crosses the Katy at Windsor, 16 miles east of the trail's current western terminus at the Clinton trailhead. That line could bring the Katy to Pleasant Hill in Cass County.

Gratuitous advice

I'm sure the Department of Natural Resources gets enough suggestions already, but I can't resist concluding today with a few ideas:

• If the Katy can be brought to Pleasant Hill, couldn't it be brought 15 more miles to Lee's Summit? There's an Amtrak station there, and many bikers riding the Katy use the train to get back home to the St. Louis or Kansas City area.

• If the Katy can come that far, maybe it could come into south Kansas City and be linked to the Trolley Track Trail, which runs 6.5 miles from 85th Street to the Plaza. Maybe the Trolley should not become part of the Katy — as it stands, there are too many busy intersections to make that feasible. But the Trolley could act as a spur into Kansas City, much as the Creve Coeur Connector has made use of the new Page Avenue bridge to span the Missouri River and link the Katy to St. Louis County.

• Now here's the ultimate goal: Make the Katy Trail span Missouri.

That aim is one the state hopes to achieve someday. “People would have the opportunity to ride from the Kansas border to the Illinois border,” Holst said.

If that's to happen for Kansas City, I think folks here are going to have to help make it happen. The DNR's approach along the existing trail has not been to “put in a bed and breakfast every 10 miles,” as Holst says. Missouri has built the trail — but Missourians have built the support structure.

Getting KC hooked up to the Katy might require some philanthropy. According to the DNR, a “generous donation” by the late Edward D. “Ted” Jones helped the state with right-of-way issues for the existing trail.

And even if we can bring the Katy to KC, we have some changing to do. This is not a bike-friendly town, nor is it always such a pal to pedestrians. Things are getting better, with new roadways incorporating bike lanes and new trails developing — but we have a long way to go. Biking the Trolley Track Trail at 6 a.m. on a Sunday is a joy. Trying it at 6 p.m. on a Monday is a health hazard.

Finally, we might be called upon to help consider the best location for a western terminus trailhead. Across the state in St. Charles, the current eastern terminus is marvelous. The trail, as it enters the St. Louis metropolitan area, is still isolated enough to be safe from the ravages of motorists. But the trail user who strides or rolls into St. Charles finds historic inns, eateries, even a brewpub just off the trail.

Could Kansas City match it?

I think so. And I'd like to hear your ideas. If you have thoughts on bringing the Katy to town, or on what to do with it if we did get it, drop me an e-mail — my electronic address is jeberhart@kcstar.com. I'll mull them over and pass some on to the DNR. Then, in a few weeks, I'll let you know about some of the suggestions I got.

And we'll see what happens on down the trail.


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