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Katy Trail Guidebook. The definitive guide to Katy Trail State Park in Missouri. Cycling St. Louis... Hike, Bike, Explore, Float, Paddle or Pedal Missouri's Outdoor Daytrip and Weekend Getaway Destinations with Pebble Publishing Guidebooks as your guide!

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Excerpts from The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook

By Brett Dufur. Copyright © 2008. 

Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

In 1986, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MK&T) Railroad (better known as the Katy) ceased operation on its route from Sedalia to Machens. This presented the chance for an extraordinary recreational facility-a 200-mile-long flat hiking and biking trail.

Nationwide, railroads are currently being abandoned at the rate of 2,000 miles per year. Through a rails-to-trails program, old railroad corridors are banked for future transportation needs and used on an interim basis as recreational trails.

Though Katy Trail enthusiasts were first met by stiff opposition from many landowners who felt the deeded railroad land should be returned to them, trail proponents eventually won out. Because of a generous donation by Edward "Ted" D. Jones Jr., the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was able to secure the right-of-way. A subsequent donation is allowing further trail development.

According to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, the number of rails-to-trails conversions across the United States has jumped from 75 in 1986 to a current total of 921 in 48 states spanning 8,000 miles of America's most beautiful landscape. There are also another 1,069 miles in development. Some are short mile-long segments of old railroad line. Only six are more than 100 miles in length. The Katy Trail State Park, at 185 miles, is America's longest rails-to-trails project.

Rails-to-Trails projects are as diverse as our national landscape. Some, like Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail, hug urban centers and are used by an estimated 1,000,000 commuters and bikers every year. By contrast, the Katy Trail is nestled in rural seclusion, allowing hikers and bikers to travel through some of the most scenic areas of Missouri. The majority of the trail follows the Missouri River, beside some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country, and beside towering limestone bluffs. The trail travels through many types of landscapes including dense forests, wetlands, deep valleys, open pastureland and gently rolling farm fields.

Though scheduled for completion in 1994, the flood of 1993 damaged 75 of the original 126 miles. The trail's grand opening (the connecting of east and west trail sections) finally occurred in September 1996.

Currently, 225 miles of the Katy Trail are open, from Clinton to St. Charles. 

20 Commonly Asked Trail Questions

1. Who runs this park?

The Katy Trail State Park is operated by the Department of Natural Resources, which also operates Missouri's 80 other state parks and historic sites.

2. Is the trail hilly?

On the contrary. This site was selected by the railroad for its flatness. Trail grades seldom reach more than 5 percent.

3. Where's the bathroom?

Trailheads have bathrooms-from port-a-potties to permanent facilities.

4. How many miles will I average in an hour?

Walkers average 1-3 miles an hour. Cyclists 5-20 miles an hour.

5. May I camp anywhere along the trail?

No. Camping is allowed only in privately operated campgrounds. See the guidebook's Campers' Notes and Campground Quick Reference Guide for information.

6. Should we take our kids?

Definitely! Many trailside bike shops even rent bike trailers for toddlers.

7. Is trailside medical assistance available?

Medical assistance would come from the nearest town. To assure fast response time, note the nearest mile marker or geographic landmark before going for help.

8. What is the trail surface like?

The trail is covered with a fine crushed limestone surface. This rock packs down almost like pavement. Chat can be as hard and smooth as pavement when dry, but be prepared for wash-outs after heavy rains. Beware of soft shoulders.

9. What happened to the old tracks?

The Katy railroad sold the salvage rights to an independent company that came in and removed the iron rails and wooden ties.

10. What's the best time to see wildlife along the trail?

The best time to spot wildlife is at dawn or at dusk. You may see Red-tailed Hawks soaring above you and American Bald Eagles in the winter. (Missouri has more eagles in the winter than any other state.) Migratory birds, including Great Blue Herons, Sandpipers, Canada Geese and Belted Kingfishers are also common.

If you want to learn about nature along the trail, check out Pebble Publishing's River Valley Companion Nature Guide. This illustrated guide identifies commonly seen trees, wildflowers, leaves, birds, wildlife, cloud formations, fossils, footprints, nasty stuff, insects and more. See the back of this book for more info.

11. Why are the towns so perfectly spaced at 10-15 mile intervals?

While the railroad was a dependable way to get products to larger markets around the nation, local travel was still primitive and restricted to a few miles. Towns were spaced every ten miles to make the railroad accessible for farmers hauling their products to market.

12. It's raining again. What's the next best thing to riding the trail?

Surf up the Missouri and visit the Interactive Katy Trail online, where it never rains! For "cyberhikers" around the world! See the back of the book for more info, or visit www.bikekatytrail.com.

13. I'd like to plan a trip along the trail, but I still have so many questions!

See the Bikers Bulletin Board at the back of the book for more trip-planning suggestions. You can also receive a free color brochure on the Katy Trail from the Department of Natural Resources.

14. What kind of bike should I bring to ride?

Most trail riders use mountain bikes for their relatively upright riding position. Many bikers also use ten-speed-style road bikes. Hybrids, which are a cross between mountain bikes and ten-speeds, are also very well suited for the trail. Look throughout the book for additional Bikers Notes.

15. I'd like to ride the trail but don't own a bike or can't get it to the trail.

No sweat! There are bike rentals available up and down the trail in many different towns. Mountain bikes, tandems and toddler trailers are among the choices, and prices generally range from $5-10 an hour to $15-20 for the day.

16. What's the best time of year to come?

Spring and fall are by far the most popular seasons for extended trips along the Katy. Spring bathes the trail in dazzling greens and the trail is showered with flowering dogwoods and redbuds. Fall is also a favorite season, when sugar maple, sumacs and bittersweets explode in hues of orange and red.

Late March begins the peak time for trail enjoyment and continues on through November. Summers are usually warm and humid. A typical July day, during the hottest month, may be around 60 degrees at sunrise and 85 degrees by noon.

17. How safe is the trail?

There are Katy Trail State Park rangers patrolling the Katy Trail. I've never heard of any safety problems along the trail, and given the trail's rural Missouri setting, I don't expect to hear any stories of problems any time soon.

18. Do I need to bring a bike lock?

At most trailside stops, your bike should be within sight and fine. I've ridden the trail many times and couldn't even tell you where my lock is at. I've never felt a need for one. At night, I ask the campground or hotel to lock my bike up and that frees me from carrying a bulky lock with me. Obviously, use your own discretion for each situation.

19. What will I probably forget to bring and regret for the rest of the trip?

Shades, sunscreen and long-sleeved shirts to screen you from the direct summer sun. Mosquito repellant or Avon's Skin-So-Soft is also helpful.

20. OK, what will I really regret for the rest of the trip?

Not having a more padded bike seat. These can be purchased at various trailside bike shops. Or, wrap your extra tire tube around your seat and mildly inflate it for a much more cushy ride. It works!

--From The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook, by Brett Dufur. © 2008, Pebble Publishing, Inc. used by permission.

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