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Posted on Sun, Oct. 17, 2004

Katy to KC? Readers respond

The Kansas City Star

The ideas have been rolling like racing tires on dry pavement.

I'm talking about the responses to my Sept. 26 column on Katy Trail guidebooks in which I asked for suggestions on bringing Missouri's Katy Trail State Park to the Kansas City area.

The Katy hiking/biking trail, which was converted from old railroad lines, runs 225 miles from St. Charles to Clinton, but Missouri's Department of Natural Resources hopes to bring the Katy to KC someday. Possible route: an abandoned Rock Island rail line from Windsor to Pleasant Hill.

I was intrigued by a suggestion from Janet Mason, who wants the DNR to “allow equine use throughout the state park.” Personally, I think that goes a bit far. Currently, horseback riding is allowed only on the Katy section between Sedalia's fairgrounds and the town of Calhoun.

But I agree with Mason that the equine area could be expanded. And Windsor just happens to be on the existing 26.5-mile equine section. So if the DNR were to use that Rock Island line from Windsor to Pleasant Hill, why not designate the first 25 miles of it as being open to horseback riding?

That's consistent with the spirit of the region. Everyone would agree that Kansas City, in mindset as well as geography, is a more “western” town than St. Louis.

Ray Scott, founder of the http://www.BikeKatyTrail.com Web site, said he is “extremely interested in the idea of extending the Katy Trail to KC.”

“You really can't appreciate what a valuable resource the Katy Trail is until you have it nearby where it's easy to reach,” Scott wrote me in an e-mail. “Many Missourians tend to think of the Katy Trail as just another state park, but it really is a big tourist draw and has a national reputation among cyclists.”

Scott noted that getting a trail built costs money, especially on the Katy scale. And while the attitude may be that most trails don't generate revenue for a city or region, it's not true with the Katy; along the current route, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns have been doing well.

“The key to extending the Katy Trail is making the local leaders … realize that most typical bike paths will not generate revenue, but if you link into the Katy Trail you will generate revenue. … People will actually come from Indiana, Texas, California, even Europe and spend their money at your local businesses. This is happening right now in Marthasville, Rocheport, Defiance and other small towns along the Katy Trail.”

So Scott ends with this suggestion: “If you hear from any civic leaders who really do want to make this a reality and have the ability to do so, please put them in touch with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy ( http://www.railtrails.org). This national organization has been involved in many rail-trail projects, and they know the ins and outs of how to really make these things happen.”

Tom Gryska noted that keeping the Katy out of harm's (i.e., motorists') way would be crucial.

“A good terminus location would be Harrisonville. It is close enough to KC but somewhat out of range of KC traffic.”

But Jack Dryden thinks the Katy could be brought into his town, Belton, or even into KC itself:

“There used to be two railroad lines that went through Belton to Clinton” — the old “Frisco” line and the “Leaky Roof” line. “Both have been abandoned, I think, which might present a problem. … (But) it might still be feasible, with cooperation from land owners, to run the trail from Clinton through Harrisonville, through Peculiar, through Belton, through Grandview and connect with the Trolley Track Trail (in Kansas City),” Dryden wrote.

“In Belton the trail would go … through the center of the old town — past the city park, past the historical Main Street area where the old Frisco Depot used to be — then pass by the former Richards-Gebaur Air Base and past Grandview's Main Street. If this route hasn't been considered … I think it would be an excellent route to bring the trail to Kansas City.”

Dryden readily admits such a route could be a boon to his business, the Dryden Drug Company at 401 Main St. in Belton.

“Our back entrance … faces the old Frisco right of way. The trail would go right by our drugstore, and we would sell lots and lots of chocolate malts.”

Hey, cyclists need carbs. Maybe Dryden Drug could be a western version of Katy Bike Rental in Defiance, which offers not only mechanical fixes for cyclists, but also Ted Drewes frozen custard.

I like Dryden's idea for another reason: I think the state should at least check into extending the Katy from Clinton to Kansas City, not Windsor to KC. According to the DNR, that old Rock Island line from Windsor is a good bet. But Windsor is about 17 miles northeast of Clinton, the trail's current western terminus. An extension from Windsor to KC essentially would turn the existing Windsor-to-Clinton leg into a spur.

Meanwhile, if you haven't experienced the Katy, drive to Clinton one of fall weekends and walk or cycle a few miles of it. Then think about how nice it would be to have it closer to home.

Poetic pair

Once again this week, the Writers Place Poetry Series brings two poets to the stage, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Johnson County Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St. in Overland Park.

This episode features Wyatt Townley, author of The Breathing Field, and Curtis Bauer, author of Fence Line.

Both these poets have received noteworthy honors. In 2002 Townley nabbed the Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry from the Kansas Arts Commission. Bauer's Fence Line is the most recent winner of BkMk Press' John Ciardi Prize for Poetry.

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