The Katy Trail’s 225 miles of hiking and biking paths cut through the heart of Missouri from St. Charles to Clinton. If the Missouri Bicycle Federation has its way, the trail might soon grow west another 75 miles into Kansas City.
That prospect excited Judy Knudson, 63, an active Columbia cyclist whose initial rides on the Katy Trail led to two cross-country biking trips as well as a two-wheel jaunt through France’s Loire Valley.
“I’m absolutely in favor of them extending that trail,” she said of efforts by the nonprofit bicycle federation. “I think this is incredibly important.”
The statewide group hopes to generate similar excitement among Missouri cyclists, businesses and political leaders for a bid to extend the trail along an abandoned rail corridor as far west as Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums in Kansas City. The new spur would begin in Windsor, about 16 miles north of the trail’s current western endpoint.
Bret Hugh, the cycling group’s president, only has to look outside the window of his Raytown home to see the potential of an extended Katy Trail. Approximately 100 yards away and in various states of disrepair is the Rock Island Corridor. The bike federation is one of several groups lobbying to convert the rail corridor into usable trails.
“I don’t think the railroad has been used since about 1980,” he said. “Here’s this rail line which hasn’t been used for 25 years; it couldn’t be any more perfect. It’s a route you could never get any other way.”
“It runs right through the middle of Lee’s Summit, Raytown and Kansas City,” Hugh continued. “It could be turned into an amenity that would increase property value.”
The Mid-America Regional Council, the metropolitan planning organization for the Kansas City area, is also on board.
The regional planning group studied two other former rail corridors — the former St. Louis/San Francisco line and the Missouri River Corridor — but determined that the Rock Island line is the most logical choice.
“The St. Louis/San Fran line had already reverted back to the property owners and the Missouri River Corridor seemed a little isolated and more to deal with topography wise,” said Steve Rhoads, the planner for the regional council.
The Rock Island Corridor has two owners. The St. Louis-based energy company Ameren UE owns the section from Windsor to Pleasant Hill, and Union Pacific owns the section from Pleasant Hill to Kansas City.
At least one of the owners, though, isn’t eager to turn over its land.
“Our intention is to maintain the Rock Island Corridor as a rail corridor,” said Mike Cleary, an Ameren spokesman. “If it’s economically feasible, we’ll be expanding further west. We purchased it as an economic development tool to help out our communities, so we’re continuing to try to market the railroad.”
The state Department of Natural Resources has set aside $1 million to develop an approximately 50-mile extension from Windsor to Pleasant Hill, said Sue Holst, an agency spokeswoman.
“But we don’t know if that is enough to do it,” she added. “We don’t know the cost estimate on how much that would take.”
There is no time frame for that project, Holst said. The agency last met with Ameren to discuss a possible land purchase more than a year ago.
Still, Hugh hopes the grassroots project will build support far beyond Kansas City, including Columbia, where the city’s MKT Trail and an extension maintained by Boone County links to the Katy.
“One of the things we want to do is get communities and businesses up and down the trail to help out,” Hugh said. “Getting it across the entire state is going to really energize the trail.”
Mark Allchorn, who works at the Cycle Depot, a Columbia bike shop, said that a longer Katy Trail would benefit local riders.
“Anytime you can extend the length of a trail it is good news,” he said. “On the whole, people would be pleased.”
Steve Stonecipher-Fisher, who owns Tryathletics, agreed.
“The more choice we have, the better,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people are open to it. Seldom do you find anyone who is negative about the trail anymore.”
For Knudson, cycling changed her life. About six months after she quit smoking, she and her husband struck out on the Katy one summer evening in the mid-1990s. Four months later, she biked across Missouri. Four months following that, she and her husband went on a nine-day bike trip in France as a reward for giving up smoking.
She’s since biked the entire length of the Katy, the state of Missouri and the United States. She’s organized cycling trips on the Katy for groups of friends from as far away as Alaska.
“I’m probably out on the Katy three or four times a week now,” Knudson said. “It is such a treasure; it’s really something that Missourians might not understand just what they’ve got with it sometimes.”