The Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park is a 47.5-mile trail that stretches through the heart of west-central Missouri. The trail provides an adventure for bicyclists, hikers and equestrian users who are seeking an avenue to enjoy nature, explore a part of rural Missouri history and have an enjoyable recreational opportunity.
The trail is built on the former corridor of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (commonly called the Rock Island line). The trail takes users between Windsor and Pleasant Hill, with additional trailheads at Leeton, Chilhowee and Medford along the way.
The trail gives users an opportunity to explore Missouri’s rural history as it travels through the small towns that once thrived along the railroad corridor. Along the way, the trail passes through prairielike landscapes, picturesque farm fields and dense woodlands while crossing numerous streams. The trail is a designated section of the nationwide American Discovery Trail, a coast-to-coast nonmotorized recreational trail.
The Rock Island Spur can be enjoyed on its own or as part of a much longer trail experience. At Windsor, the trail connects to the 240 mile stretch of the Katy Trail that goes between Clinton to the west and Machens to the east in St. Charles County.
Rock Island History
The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, commonly called the Rock Island Line, had its first beginnings in 1852 when its ancestor, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, operated its first train between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. The Rock Island system eventually stretched across Missouri as far west as Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
The section of the railroad from Windsor to Pleasant Hill traveled through a countryside of farm fields and grazing land, punctuated with evidence of quarries and coal-mining operations. The railroad provided an easy method of transportation for shipments of grain, vegetables, other agricultural goods and coal. Existing towns prospered while new towns sprang up supported by the railroad. A sojourner on the section of railroad heading from Windsor (named for Windsor Castle) would have traveled through small communities such as Bowen, New Castle, Leeton, Post Oak, Chilhowee (a Cherokee name for the Tennessee or “Smoky Mountain), Denton, Medford, Hadsell and Wingate before reaching Pleasant Hill (named for its “pleasant situation on an elevated prairie.”) During its heyday, the Rock Island Line lived up to its reputation made famous in the 1930s American folk song: “The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road; The Rock Island Line is the road to ride.”
Missouri State Parks had long expressed interest in the line as a way to extend a trail system into the Kansas City area. When the railroad filed an official notice of intent to abandon the line, Missouri State Parks filed a request for interim trail use, setting the stage for eventual transfer of the property. This opportunity for a rail-to-trail project was made possible through an amendment to the National Trails System Act, which allows railroad corridors no longer needed for active rail service to be banked for future transportation needs and used in the interim as recreational trails.