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Discover Mid-America —June 2004

Hikers, bikers and travelers love it. Some farmers and landowners along its route have other — more negative — opinions. But the Katy Trail State Park, stretching across Missouri from Clinton to St. Charles, is a reality.

 In 1986, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (known as the MK&T, or “Katy”) ceased operations on its route across the state. The 1960 National Trails System Act provides for inactive railroad corridors to be “banked” for future transportation needs. In the interim the corridors can be used for recreational purposes. When the MK&T announced its plans in Missouri, various groups began promoting the idea of developing the abandoned rail line as a hiking and bicycling trail.

For several years, landowners who expected the corridor to be returned to them once it ceased being used by the railroad, fought the Katy Trail project, both in court and in the press. Lawsuits were filed, hearings on the matter were held in Jefferson City and Washington D.C., and vitriolic notices were posted in local newspapers and on signs along the MK&T corridor.

The Katy Trail State Park offers 225 miles of scenic, well-maintained trail through the heart of Missouri. (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

But the concept of a “people’s pathway” across the state captured the public imagination, and over the next ten years proponents of the trail won out. In 1991, the Union Pacific Railroad donated to the state an additional 33 miles of rail corridor from Sedalia to Clinton. Other purchases and donations added more land. Today’s Katy Trail State Park extends from Clinton to St. Charles — a distance of 225 miles — and is considered to be America’s longest rails-to-trails project. The Katy Trail is also one of more than 190 railbank corridors in 30 states, representing about 4,000 miles of trails.

Vestiges of the landowners’ dispute can still be seen on the trail, and users are warned to exercise extra caution in some areas. But generally, tempers have cooled and the trail has proved to be an economic boon to the communities involved.

Enjoying the Trail

Most of the Katy Trail closely parallels the Missouri River. Bikers and hikers enjoy unique scenery as the trail winds between the river and towering bluffs, utilizing the gentle grades used by the railroad, In the spring, trail users walk and ride amid flowering redbud and dogwood. In the fall, stands of sugar maple, sumac and bittersweet turn the trailsides red and brown. A variety of birds, from chickadees to turkey buzzards, can be seen throughout the year.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has constructed unique “mini-depots” at each trailhead that provide covered benches for resting. In the center are panels with trail maps and historical information about the surrounding area. There is also a bulletin board for travelers to post notes and advisories. Restroom facilities are nearby, and maintained April through October. Mile markers designate each mile of the Trail.

The trail surface, hard-packed crushed limestone, generally is smooth, but users should be prepared for weather damage, including rough surfaces, washouts, downed or fallen trees, rocks, water over the trail, and other factors. Occasionally, parts of the trail are used for moving farm and construction equipment. Other vehicles may be present, and farm animals can occasionally be found on the trail.

A pathway through Missouri history

Old river towns that developed with the steamboat trade and were kept alive by the railroad continue to prosper with the popularity of the Katy Trail. Maps published in the early 1900s show little in the way of roads, but the river towns (and others connected by the railroads) were featured, along with the all-important railroads. The building of the line by the MK&T in 1892-93 spurred a wave of prosperity.

The Trailhead at Clifton City. Photo Ken Weyand.

Notable among the old towns is Rocheport, at the western edge of Boone County. Osage Indians lived along a creek that flowed into the Missouri and named the stream “Manito” or “Creek of the Great Spirit.” French settlers later changed the name to Moniteau Creek. Downstream, Native Americans painted pictographs on the bluffs near the spot where the Lewis and Clark Expedition would camp on June 6, 1804. A marker and information sign bear witness today and traces of the pictographs can be seen above Lewis and Clark Cave at mile marker 175.

Rocheport was founded in 1835. By 1840, it had grown rapidly and was chosen as the site for the state Whig convention which nominated William Henry Harrison. Thousands of delegates traveled to Rocheport by steamboat, carriage and horseback.

Rocheport survived the Civil War but suffered attacks by both sides, including a week-long occupation by Confederate guerrilla Bill Anderson in September 1864. Prosperity of the late 1800s was capped by the building of the railroad in 1892, but the town’s good fortune was tempered by a disastrous fire. Due to its historic significance, Rocheport was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Today, as the scenic gateway to the Katy Trail, the town attracts visitors who enjoy its tranquility and its quaint shops, historic buildings and old homes. Rocheport offers fine restaurants and overnight accommodations, as well as bicycle rentals.

Other trails coincide with the Katy Trail, including the American Discovery Trail, and the Millennium Legacy Trail. From St. Charles to Booneville, the Katy Trail is an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Life on the Trail

The tunnel at Rocheport. Photo Ken Weyand.

Forty trail communities offer many services, including food and grocery, restaurants, parking, bike rental, bike maintenance, lodgings, phone, water, camping, and restrooms. One community, Clinton, offers horse rentals, for riders between Calhoun and Sedalia, the only portion of the Trail that allows horseback riding. Although camping can be found at trail communities, there are no camping facilities in Katy Trail State Park.

Overnight accommodations, including more than 20 inns and bed & breakfast facilities, are offered in the Trail communities. For more information visit Bed & Breakfast Inns of Missouri at www.bbim.org and click on “Inns on the KATY Trail.”

Travelers can visit some of Missouri’s finest wineries in communities on or near the Katy Trail. From west to east: Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport; Thornhill Vineyards & Winery in Hartsburg; Adam Puchta Winery, Hermannhof Winery & Restaurant, OakGlenn Vineyards & Winery and Stone Hill Winery & Restaurant in Hermann (across the river from the Trail); Blumenhof Winery in Dutzow; Augusta Winery and Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta; Sugar Ceek Vineyards & Winery in Defiance; and Winery of the Little Hills in St. Charles.

Historic homes can be found near the Katy Trail. They include Crestmead Home and Pleasant Green Plantation House in Pilot Grove; Ravenswood Home and Roslyn Heights Historical Home in Boonville; and the historic Daniel Boone Home in Defiance.

Getting to the Trail

Scenic highways paralleling the Katy Trail share its river scenery. Driving east from Boonville, motorists can take Hwy. 98 east to near Overton, then Hwy. 179 south and east to Jefferson City. From there, take Hwy. 50 east. About a mile west of Linn, take Hwy. 100 north and east through Hermann to Washington, then north on Hwy. 47 to Dutzow, then Hwy. 94 to St. Charles. Another option is to cross the Missouri River at Jefferson City and take Hwy. 94 east to St. Charles. This route is less hilly and closely parallels the Katy Trail. However, in my view, the other route is more interesting.

An alternative is AMTRAK, which offers four passenger trains each day between Kansas City and St. Louis, with stops at Independence, Lee’s Summit, Warrensburg, Sedalia, Jefferson City, Hermann, Washington and Kirkwood. A limited number of unboxed bicycles are allowed on trains at additional cost. Reservations are required. For schedules and other details, call (800) USA-RAIL.

A shuttle service, operated by Creason Bike Rentals, is available for hikers and bikers on the Katy Trail. For details, call 573-694-2027. Another shuttle in St. Charles operates between St. Charles and Hermann, and to many wineries and hotels. Visit their website at www.katytrailshuttle.com.

Annual events

Many events are scheduled in communities located near the Katy Trail. Sedalia offers dozens of annual events, including the Missouri State Fair in August, a Native American Powwow in July, and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in June. For details call the Sedalia Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 222-5251.

Smaller towns in the middle of the trail (Boonville, Arrow Rock, Rocheport, and Hartsburg) host several events. Boonville hosts the Big Muddy Folk Festival in April. Arrow Rock’s Lyceum Theatre presents several shows each summer. Rocheport hosts the Lewis and Clark Rendezvous in June. Hartsburg hosts the Pumpkin Festival in October.

At the trail’s eastern segment, Hermann hosts Octoberfest Weekends in October. Wineries in the Hermann area and throughout Missouri’s Rhineland host various events. Watch for event information in the calendar section of Discover Mid-America.

The Missouri Division of Tourism offers information on the central portion of the Trail at a website: www.katycentral.com. A free guidebook is available at the website.

Odds and ends

The Sedalia Depot, a major terminal on the MK&T line between Kansas City and St. Louis, is being renovated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The depot, built in 1896, serves as the headquarters of the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitors Bureau. It also operates as an official Welcome Center for Trail visitors. A railroad heritage museum in the depot features exhibits relating to local history. The Trail detours through Sedalia on city streets and is marked by signs. For details, visit www.vistsedaliamo.com or call (800) 827-5295. (Also see “Traveling with Ken” column in this issue.)

Souvenir buttons, shirts, hats, bandana coolers, sports bottles, lapel pins, water bottles and other items are available through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. For more information call (800) 334-6946 or visit the website: www.mostateparks.com.

Equipped with a camera and PDA, biking enthusiast Randy Niere, from Kansas City, Kan., has recorded some of his annual cross-country rides on the Katy Trail on his website. Niere’s account of his experiences include bouts with headwinds, blown tires, and other setbacks. But it also includes narration about the magnificent scenery encountered on the trail, complete with photos, and captures the fun of bicycling with friends. Visit Randy’s web journal of his 2003 ride.

One of the Katy Trail’s most active supporters and chroniclers is Brett Dufur, whose book, The Complete Guide to the Katy Trail, is recommended reading. The book is available from Pebble Publishing at www.pebblepublishing.com or visit the Pebble Bookstore in Rocheport. More Katy Trail details can be found at katytrail.showmestate.com. The interactive site contains a bulletin board with advisories from trail users, and other info.

For current trail conditions, call (800) 334-6946.


Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at kweyand@gbronline.com.


> Discover Mid-America Archive — Past cover stories

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