By Doug Rich
The sound of a train in the distance and the smooth, flat surface of the trail were reminders that this was once a railroad track.
The Katy Trail State Park in Missouri is built on what was once the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy). It is the longest developed rail-to-trail project in the United States and stretches 225 miles from Clinton, Mo., eastward to St. Charles, Mo.
It is open year-round to hikers, bikers and, on designated portions, to horses.
No motorized equipment is allowed on the trail except for emergency vehicles and electrically assisted pedal-powered bicycles and electrically powered mobility devices for persons with disabilities. Horses are allowed on a portion of the trail from Calhoun to the state fairgrounds in Sedalia.
The Katy Trail follows a very scenic and historic path along the Missouri River. The portion of the trail between Cooper County and St. Charles County has been designated as an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The trail is also part of the American Discovery Trail and has been designated as a Millennium Legacy Trail.
Bikers can bring their own bikes or rent bikes at stores along the trail. My wife and I rented bikes at the Trailside Café and Bike Shop in Rocheport, Mo. Rocheport is located at mile marker 178 and is one of 26 trailheads that provide access to the Katy Trail.
The Katy Trail near Rocheport offers outstanding views of the bluffs along the Missouri River. On our bike ride, we saw a barge being pushed up river toward Kansas City, Mo.
We started our day on the trail by heading west to mile marker 178.9 to visit the only tunnel on the Katy Trail State Park. Local lore reports that this tunnel was used in a movie based on a Stephen King novel, but on a crisp, almost cold October morning, the tunnel was not very scary.
After visiting the tunnel, we headed east which took us toward Jefferson City, Mo. Remember, that unless you have arranged for a shuttle to pick you up at the end of the day, you have to pedal back the same way you came to pick up your car and return your bike. My wife and I had been jogging over the summer and thought we were in pretty good shape, but after our 20 mile round trip my wife was doing just fine but my legs were screaming for a break by the time we returned to Rocheport.
The brochure we picked up at the railhead said not to exceed your physical capabilities by planning too long of a trip. That is excellent advice.
The halfway point on our bike trip brought us to Katfish Katy's campground at mile marker 171.7. The trail is marked every mile with a signpost that corresponds to the traditional railroad mileage system.
Linda Brown and her husband, Robert, purchased the farm where the campground is located in 1993 and opened their campground in 2002.
"There was nothing out here before you got to Rocheport," Linda said. "The first weekend we were open, it was really hot, so water and Gatorade were our biggest sellers."
Brown said Labor Day weekend is the biggest for bikers and Memorial Day weekend is also a busy one on the Katy Trail. May, September, and October are the most popular times to use the trail.
Brown said they have had some interesting visitors over the last six years. This included a couple that was walking from Boston to California. They stopped at the campground on a hot summer day and ate ice cream for three hours. This couple planned ahead and had water buried along their route and had arranged for their dirty laundry to be sent home.
A man from Scotland was walking across the United States and had sponsors back home who were supporting his trek. This hiker was very popular and, in towns along the trail, people would have him over for dinner and provide him with a place to sleep.
Our first day on the Katy Trail ended with a glass of wine at the Les Bourgeois Bistro and A-frame wine garden. Sitting on top of a bluff, the wine garden has a beautiful view of the Missouri River Valley. It was a great spot to sample locally produced wine and view the fall colors.
On day two, we explored the eastern section of the Katy Trail. This time we traveled by car. The towns along the trail do a good job of promoting their festivals and special events to bikers and hikers on the trail.
Our first stop was in Marthasville, Mo., where they were celebrating Heritage Days. There were craft booths, kids games, live music, and the Antique Plow Day. Marthasville was the last civilized stop for Lewis and Clark on their journey of discovery. At that time, Marthasville was known as La Charrette.
The second stop was in Hermann, Mo., where they celebrate Oktoberfest every weekend in October. Beer from the local brewery and wine from vineyards in the area flowed freely. Crowds can be large on these weekends. The Hofgarten, a German style performance and event facility, is a hub of activity every weekend during October and again in the spring for the Maifest.
Hermann is not only on the Katy Trail but is also a main stop on the Missouri Wine Trail. There are seven award-winning wineries within a 15-mile radius of Hermann and more than 40 throughout the state. Many of these are along the Missouri River not far from the Katy Trail.
The Katy Railroad operated from 1865 to 1915 through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. And many of the towns along the trail today developed during that time period. The last section of railroad from Machens to Sedalia ceased operation in 1986.
The National Trails Systems Act made it possible for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to acquire the right-of-way and developed this wonderful recreational opportunity. Private donations and donations from the Union Pacific Railroad made it possible for the Katy Trail to extend 225 miles across the state.
Bikers and hikers have replaced trains on the Katy Trail but the beautiful scenery and wonderful hospitality have not changed that much since passenger trains began following this trail in 1865.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.