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Katy pioneer remembers how trail was born

WILLIAMSBURG – The Katy Trail is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but Pat Jones says the spark that inspired the recreational trail went back much further.

Pat and her late husband, Ted Jones, were early backers of the trail, donating $2.2 million to purchase the right-of-way from the railroad and to get the trail started. The first 5-mile section opened in April 1990, a few months before the death of Ted Jones, a brokerage executive.

The idea for a recreational trail came as far back as 1941, Pat Jones said, when she and her husband were on a youth hostel ride through southern Missouri.

“They were doing rides like that in Europe,” said Pat Jones, who is 84. “We thought, ‘Why can’t we do that here?’”

Years later, Ted Jones visited Wisconsin, where he cycled on an abandoned railroad line that had been converted into a hiking-biking trail.

“He came back and said, ‘They’re abandoning railroad line around Missouri, the little towns are just dead without the railroad,’” Pat Jones recalled. “The small towns were fed by the railroad, who’s going to feed them?”

The Katy Trail today stretches 225 miles from St. Charles in the east to Clinton in the west, following the Missouri River through the state’s mid-section. Many of the towns along the way have opened businesses to serve the trail’s 300,000 annual riders.

“There are little stores where you can get a soda,” Pat Jones said. “There are bed-and-breakfasts that weren’t there before. That whole area along the river has come to life with wineries and things that bring in outside money.

“The trail gave a spark of life, and life makes its own way. Ted would have loved it.”