By Tom Uhlenbrock
Missouri State Parks
Already the nation’s longest rails-to-trails conversion, the Katy Trail just got longer.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which operates the trail as a state park, has completed a 12-mile extension on the east end that takes the trail from St. Charles to Machens.
Gov. Jay Nixon and First Lady Georganne Nixon used a giant pair of scissors to snip a red ribbon Saturday (April 2) and officially open the section, which marks the last of the old railroad bed to be converted to a recreational trail.
“Today, the last section of the original Katy rail corridor is open for bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy, just as they have enjoyed using other sections of this great recreational resource for the past 21 years,” the governor said.
Nixon noted that the trail was “somewhat controversial” when first proposed; as attorney general, he went to court several times to protect the rail corridor for trail use.
But he noted the trail not only has provided recreation for hundreds of thousands who have visited Katy Trail State Park, it also has revived small towns abandoned when the railroad shut down.
“The railroad gave birth to many small communities along its way, and in many ways was their lifeblood,” Nixon said. “Over the last 20 years, the Katy Trail has had a tremendous influence on the people and the state, much as the railroad did.”
Nixon lamented that Pat Jones, who with her late husband, Ted, were early financial backers of the trail, could not be present for the opening of the newest section. However, he did welcome Wayne Goode, an early supporter as a former state legislator, and Mark and Felicia Pierce, avid trail users who drove across the state from their home in Blue Springs to try out the new section in St. Charles County.
Also present was Ed Bielek, 82, of Webster Groves, who told the Nixons he had walked the trail six times, and biked it 16 times. “I was the first person to walk it,” Bielek said. “It took me 10 days. It was 1990, it wasn’t even finished.”
A border-to-border trail
Quinn Kellner, natural resource manager for the east portion of Katy Trail State Park, said the newest section offers a quiet ride through small towns and farmland, like much of the rest of the trail.
“You get some nice views of rural St. Charles County and you don’t have to deal with any traffic,” Kellner said. “The new stretch also has some views close to the Missouri River. There’s a portion of what they call the Cul-de-Sac, a very wide sweeping bend of the river.”
The extension brings the total trail length to 240 miles.
With each new section, the Katy Trail inches closer to the eventual dream that would have a bike rider start a journey at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and pedal across the state’s mid-section all the way to Kansas City. Or vice versa.
Gov. Nixon said he shared that dream.
“We all look forward to trail access across Missouri, border to border,” he said.
End of the line
The Katy Trail runs through Frontier Park in the historic district of St. Charles for about 1.5 miles east to DuSable Park. That’s where the newest section of the trail begins.
The section passes under the Wabash Railroad bridge and Highway 370. It quickly joins the river, with only a stand of tall cottonwoods between the hard-packed gravel trail and the muddy water.
Riders soon approach a large curving pool on the river bank – one of two scour holes carved out by the Great Flood of 1993. The holes held up progress on extending the trail because it had to detour onto property owned by the local levee district.
After the scour holes, the route has some features unusual for an abandoned rail line that is largely flat – gentle undulations up and down that the railroad once crossed with long-gone bridges.
The trail then leaves the river and runs arrow straight through farm fields dotted with tidy houses, much of the way through a corridor of trees. Because the railroad no longer cuts and sprays the route, the canopy has grown over and provides dappled shade.
The tiny village of Black Walnut is the first town on the stretch and has a Katy depot and parking lot. The next three miles goes to Machens, which has a depot and restroom but no parking.
The depot marks the end of the line to the east, for now.