ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Gary and Jan Richard of Pittsburg, Kan., had mixed emotions as they pedaled their bicycles to take a picture in front of the Lewis and Clark statue in St. Charles' Frontier Park.
They had about a mile to go before they finished the 225-mile Katy Trail, a journey they had made in three trips over the past year.
"It's a sense of accomplishment, sure, but it's also sad," Jan Richard, 57, said about completing the trail. "Where else can you park your bike on a bluff, hike 1,000 feet and have a bottle of wine with lunch?"
The Katy Trail is celebrating its 20th anniversary, having overcome a controversial beginning to now serve more than 300,000 visitors a year such as the Richards.
"I think it's one of the highlights of Missouri," said Darwin Hindman, chairman of the Katy Trail Coalition, a group that pushed for the project.
The crushed limestone recreational trail cuts through the state's rural heartland, from St. Charles to Clinton, along the route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which quit operating in 1986.
The first section — five miles between Rocheport and Huntsville — was dedicated on April 28, 1990. The last section — 11 miles from St. Charles to Black Walnut — will connect with the final 3.1 miles going into the Machens area at the northeastern end of the trail. That segment should be under construction this summer and completed by the end of the year.
The state will kick off an anniversary celebration at 1 p.m. Saturday in Rocheport. Special events are scheduled throughout the year, including exhibits and programs along the trail.
Touted as the longest rail-to-trail project in the nation, the Katy Trail winds through the rolling hills of Missouri's wine country, past once-upon-a-time railroad communities and alongside panoramic views of the Missouri River.
The character and scenery of the trail varies, from a shady canopy of trees to open flood plain to limestone bluffs. Wildlife is abundant. Turtles sun themselves in the middle of the path while deer cut across it, and owls, hawks and other birds soar and flit among the trees.
A ROCKY START
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources took over the abandoned MKT through a federal law that allows railroad lines to be banked for potential future use, but in the meantime, converted to recreational trails.
The deal set off a firestorm of opposition from landowners who said their contracts with the railroad specified that if the line quit running, the land reverted back to them.
One of the opponents, Jane Glosemeyer, lives on a 240-acre farm in Marthasville that's been in her family for three generations. The trail sliced her property virtually in half.
She and other property owners waged a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and wasn't settled until 2000. Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Claims decided the landowners were entitled to compensation, but the trail would stay.
Today, some landowners, such as Glosemeyer and Gary Heldt of Rhineland, still harbor hard feelings about the easements, and they say trespassing has been a nagging concern.
"One day I caught a young man walking into my shed, and he said 'I was looking for some tools,'" Glosemeyer said. "I thought, 'My house is right here, why did you not come and ask?'"
Heldt, who was chairman of the citizens group that represented the landowners, owns 60 acres abutting the trail. He said that DNR provided signs and fencing but that park rangers usually weren't around when someone was trespassing.
"Generally speaking, we have to handle it ourselves," he said.
Glosemeyer said her privacy was a thing of the past.
"Living in the country, that was my glory," she said. "Now my dogs bark all the time, so there's no peace of mind."
COASTING TO SUCCESS
Dawn Fredrickson, Katy Trail coordinator, said that the DNR had been tracking trail use only since 2004 but that in the past five years, visits are up 12.5 percent. Last year, the most popular area was St. Charles County, with 111,000 users.
The department tallies the information using infrared counters at each of the 25 trailheads, and a formula to account for people who start the trail elsewhere.
"There are people who use the trail every day for exercise, and for others, this is their vacation," Fredrickson said.
She said the biggest reason for increased usage was the services that have built up along the trail.
"There are B&Bs, private campgrounds, little cafes and grocery stores; without them, this would just be a long-distance trail," she said. "The businesses really add to the experience and make for a fun ride."
No recent studies have assessed the trail's economic impact, but Fredrickson said community projects to connect to the trail spoke volumes about its importance.
For instance, Defiance hopes to build a quarter-mile bike loop through the center of town this summer, and spurs already exist in Columbia and Holt Summit. Other cities, such as Hermann, have improved the bridge leading into town by adding a bike lane.
Also there are plans to connect the Katy Trail's western edge into Pleasant Hill, just outside the Kansas City metro area, by using the Rock Island Railroad corridor.
Merchants in Augusta and Defiance agreed that the trail had been beneficial to their towns, and some added that they probably wouldn't be in business without it. Dale Rollings, owner of the Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery in Defiance, said he opened a wine garden and installed a bicycle rack to accommodate trail users.
"We figured out that bike riders don't have a way to carry a bottle of wine," he said. "Now people who start the trail in Defiance come back at the end of the day to get cheese, sausage, wine and listen to some music."
Corinne Post, who for a decade has run the Red Brick Inn in Augusta, said half of her business came from bikers and hikers who were making their last stop before finishing the trail in St. Charles.
Even businesses such as Augusta Wood Ltd., which sells home decor and is a few blocks off the trail, have benefited, said owner Vic Brown.
"Every week when the weather is halfway decent, I'm seeing bikers in the shop," he said. "There's the residual effect of people who now know we're here when they need something later."
AT THE ST. CHARLES DEPOT
On a recent windy but warm day along the trail in St. Charles, Al Collver, 39, of Manchester, stopped just south of historic Main Street to adjust his trailer cycle before he and his daughter Katie, 6, headed home.
Collver said that last year he rode the Katy Trail every weekend, usually beginning around Creve Coeur Lake, then taking the connector across the Page Avenue Extension onto the trail.
"This is a great place to ride and a safe place to ride; I don't have to worry about motorists getting road rage and cursing me," he said.
Traci Grisoff, 45, and Angel Milne, 38, both of St. Charles, said they were relatively new users of the trail. They regularly walk a five-mile section.
They said that they liked the trail because it was always clean, and that they felt safe because many people were around.
The growth of the popularity of the trail is satisfying to people such as Hindman, of the Katy coalition, who had predicted it would be good for Missouri.
"Sometimes the only way you'll ever know is to test it out and see exactly what happens," he said. "This time it worked."