ROCHEPORT — The tired bikers slowly peddled up the steep hill, urged on by shouts and cheers from a group of eighth graders from the Scuola Vita Nuova school in Kansas City.
“They came up that hill and they knew how hard it was,” said Andrea Putnam, chief naturalist for Missouri State Parks. “I told them, ‘We should cheer them on because you did that, and now they are having to do it.’ And they started cheering everybody on.”
Supporting each other is one of the things the students are taking away from a ride this week from one end of the Katy Trail to the other. Biking together on the trip has taught them to encourage each other when the riding gets difficult.
“They are learning the cooperation, the teamwork,” Putnam said. “They’re completing something from start to finish. They’re crossing the state. It’s a valuable life lesson that they’re learning.”
The Katy Trail Ride, hosted by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri State Parks Foundation, is a 225-mile, five-day bike ride that started Monday in St. Charles and will end Friday in Clinton. This year’s Katy Trail Ride marks the 10th anniversary of the event and the 20th anniversary of the Katy Trail.
After around 50 miles of biking each day, the 303 tour participants stop at various cities along the trail to camp for the night. Participants paid $260 to take part in the ride, which includes breakfasts, dinners and a shower truck and a place to camp each evening.
Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks, joined the group at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport, the town where the group stopped Wednesday night. Bryan said the idea for the Katy Trail came about not long after the MKT railroad went out of business about 30 years ago. Successful St. Louis financier Ted Jones and his wife Pat saw a different future for these vacant railroads and began a movement to turn them into trails.
“Ted Jones saw that abandoned rail line and he saw the potential of this great trail, a recreational asset we have today” Bryan said. “His visions and contributions helped make the trail possible.”
What makes all of this possible is the federal National Trails System Act of 1968, which says that if a railroad line is defunct, going out of business or abandoned, it can be converted to a trail purpose. Bryan said this situation is called rail bank, which means trails are held for future use of railroads. In case the nation ever needs a railroad, they can put a railroad line over the trail.
The Katy Trail also provides business for towns along the trail.
“The Katy Trail has taken communities that were left behind when the railroad left and given them new opportunities.” Bryan said. “Rocheport now has bike shops, wineries and things that are developing around the Katy Trail. And that’s true all up and down the trail.”
The annual trail ride has added many positive aspects for the riders themselves. This year, the group varied in age from 6 to 81 with most everyone agreeing that it’s a fun aerobic activity that allows you to experience nature and everything it has to offer.
“This ride is great for your health.” Ed Bielik, 81, said. “It’s enjoyable and you learn to appreciate nature. You get to see a lot of things you wouldn’t normally see.”