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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
We're still trying to find a way to do that, Holst said last
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.
I'm sure the Department of Natural Resources gets enough
suggestions already, but I can't resist concluding today with a few
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.