On any given day, casual walkers and avid runners trek a highway of dirt and gravel paths through Columbia’s wooded areas.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department maintains 25 trails. These range from the quarter-mile trail in Westwinds Park to 4.7-mile MKT Nature and Fitness Trail.
Mike Griggs, a park services manager, said the multipurpose character of the MKT makes it by far the city’s most popular trail.
“It connects downtown to the Katy Trail, so it has a lot of uses other than just recreational,” Griggs said. “People use it for transportation and can bike to work or to school.”
The name of this well-traveled path stands for the Missouri Kansas Texas railroad, whose line once matched the trail’s direction.
Other trails have various uses as well. Like the MKT, Bear Creek and Hinkson Creek trails also have crushed limestone surfaces that make them the best spots for walking, jogging and biking.
Amber Cox, the sports information director at Columbia College, runs on the MKT several times a week and enjoys its accessibility and security.
“I like the parking, and I like that it’s crowded,” she said. “You know, that’s important for safety reasons, since I’m a woman by myself.”
Although walker Charles Lusby occasionally bikes with friends in the evenings, he often walks alone weekday mornings. Like Cox, he prefers MKT over other trails for its constant flow of people.
“I mostly come to this one,” Lusby said. “I feel comfortable with the number of people here.”
Rock Bridge State Park, about two miles south of Columbia on Missouri 163, has a set of trails that allows for more activities than some of those Parks and Recreation controls.
For instance, the park contains six designated trails that total about 15 miles of space for hiking and bicycling.
There are also an additional seven miles of trails designated for hiking and horseback riding from June 1 until the end of October, park representative Kathryn DiFoxfire said.
“We have a big variety,” DiFoxfire said. “Some of the trails are flat and grassy, some are dirt and hilly and good for running.”
Rock Bridge also features an orienteering course on its trails, challenging participants to find 30 markers along the path.
The park’s trails attract mostly individual users, DiFoxfire said, rather than organized groups or clubs. They do, though, feature several races and events such as the Rock Bridge Revenge foot race and the Show-Me Bike Race.
Some athletic organizations, primarily Columbia Track Club, use the city’s trails on a regular basis. CTC often meets at the Katy Trail for group runs.
“There are walk-a-thons, fun runs; those type of events occur on the trails quite often,” Griggs said.
He said CTC has donated drinking fountains along some of the trails.
Organizations also occasionally hold fund-raisers on the trails. The only stipulations Parks and Recreation sets are that groups cannot close trails or collect money on site.
Detailed descriptions of the city’s various trails can be found at http://www.gocolumbiamo.com.