ROCHEPORT — Around 20 hands raised, identifying those who claimed they were at the birth of the Katy Trail 20 years ago. On Saturday, many more gathered at Katy Trail State Park to honor 20 years of memories on the Katy Trail.
The trail started as a vision from the son of the founder of the investment firm Edward Jones.
Dan Burkhardt, a retired investment banker, said Ted Jones, son of Edward Jones, was a creative and spontaneous guy.
“He took a bike ride with one of our brokers in Wisconsin in the '80s on a Rails-to-Trails project,” he said. “Ted came back just full of enthusiasm and said we needed one in Missouri.”
Jones and his wife, Pat, donated $2.2 million for the trail, which was dedicated on April 28, 1990, in Rocheport. Gov. Jay Nixon, who spoke at the 20th anniversary ceremony, said the trail started out with only a few miles but quickly grew to a major attraction for both Missouri residents and out-of-state visitors.
Saturday's the celebration included a live band and information booths for different organizations and local businesses. The music was followed by a ceremony to honor the trail.
Bill Bryan, director of Department of Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks, acted as master of ceremonies and took the time to thank everyone involved with creating the trail and helping it grow.
Former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman also took part in the ceremony. Norman Eaker, chief administrative officer at the investment firm Edward Jones, spoke on behalf of Edward Jones and reflected on the history of the trail and how it came to flourish.
Judd Slivka, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the area used to be a railroad bed that was put into "bank status" because it was no longer being used. This allowed the government to use it for a Rails-to-Trails project. According to the website, Rails-to-Trails is a nonprofit organization with a mission to create trails in place of old rail lines.
At 225 miles, Katy Trail is the nation’s longest Rails-to-Trails project, and it stretches from Clinton in the west to St. Charles in the east.
Slivka said around 300,000 Missourians use the trail each year. He said he once met a father and son from Florida that heard about the trail and biked on it when they came to Missouri to visit colleges.
There have also been visitors from different countries such as Germany and Japan who hear about, and travel to the trail.
“It really is a multi-cultural, multi-national destination,” Slivka said.
Not only has the trail been a source of recreation, it has also been an economic driver for the towns along the trail.
Slivka said wineries have flourished from being along the trail as well as other businesses.
“It has become sort of a touchstone and something that people know,” he said. “This is the place where families go to make tracks and make memories.”
Although Ted Jones has passed, many are still working to preserve the trail that he helped create.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the trail, Burkhardt and his wife Connie started the Katy Land Trust, which protects the scenic views along the Katy Trail and prevents properties from being developed on it.
“We thought Ted Jones would like the idea of maintaining the rural atmosphere,” he said.
People who don’t want their land to be sold for development can also put it in the land trust. Although they still own it, the land can’t be developed. Burkhardt put his 220-acre farm into the land trust. Edward Jones also made a donation of $150,000 to help people pay the expenses to put their land into the trust.
Pat Jones, 84, and the Edward Jones investment bank have also continued to help fund the Katy Trail. After a flood in 1993, Bryan said they contributed funds and assistance to help repair the trail. Pat Jones also connected the eastern and western parts of the trail in 1996.
It was also announced at the ceremony that there are plans to extend the Katy Trail at Windsor and Pleasant Hill in order to completely connect the trail from St. Louis to Kansas City.
Pat Jones was honored at the ceremony for her donation to the trail and was presented with the 20th anniversary trailhead. She then rode the Shakespeare's Pizza’s pedicab to the Ted Jones memorial bench along the trail.
The day ended with a bike ride led by 1984 Olympic Gold cycling medalist Mark Gorski to Hindman Junction to commemorate the 20th anniversary.
Pat Jones said her favorite part about the trail is the fact that people use it.
“What you really want is to see people enjoy it,” she said.