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You Can Now Ride a Bike from Kansas City to St. Louis on Nation's New Longest "Rail-Trail"

Cyclists on the Katy Trail
Photo by Emilie Farris
If driving isn't your thing and planes are too expensive, how about you take your next vacation entirely on a bike? For residents in Missouri, this goal became altogether real. Just this week, the state announced a 47-mile extension to the Katy Trail making it the longest contiguous rail-trail in the United States at 268 miles (and a 284-mile trail network). This usurps John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington state at 253 miles.

Converted from abandoned railways, rail-trails are forging an explosive network of bike and pedestrian cross-country connections. The best part about rail-trail conversions opposed to newly developed trails is that most of the groundwork is already done.

Converted railroad corridors have continuous right-of-way, few street crossings, tunnels, and bridges. The result? A veritable bike freeway, a haven for those wishing to travel cross-state without the worry of burning fossil fuels or otherwise putting themselves in danger while riding a bike on the road.

In Missouri, the goal is to connect the state's two largest cities, Kansas City and Saint Louis. These cities lie on the far western and eastern borders of the state (respectively), meaning that although they both call Missouri home, they aren't as close as one might think.

Trail crossing along Katy Trail in Pleasant Hill, MO
Photo by Emilie Farris

This unique geographical problem has had to be addressed throughout Missouri's history through the development of riverboat infrastructure, railroads, and the interstate highway system. Now, the Katy Trail can provide the crucial connection for cyclists and pedestrians.

The trail extension provides a link between the rural town of Windsor, MO and Pleasant Hill, a far suburb of Kansas City. Starting in eastern Machens, MO, the Katy Trail now officially connects both Saint Louis and Kansas City metro areas. However, there is still work to be done to bring the trail into the urban cores.

Katy Trail extends from St. Louis to Kansas City metropolitan areas
Image by Atlas Lens and Braden Anderson
By 2018, officials in Jackson County, MO plan to bring the Katy Trail into the heart of the city with another 17-mile extension from Pleasant Hill to Truman Sports Complex, where the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs play. From there, the trail can feed into several different urban bike trails and greenways allowing cyclists to ride straight into Midtown, Kansas City.

Rail-trails have laid a strong foundation for long-distance, off-road bike and pedestrian travel, but they can't be the end of the road. If the United States hopes to achieve a truly accessible and extensive countrywide trail network, it's going to take action on the state, county, and civic levels.

That's why the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy takes on a wide-ranging vision. Their philosophy is "to take a cross-disciplinary approach to ensuring trails and trail networks serve to enhance the social, economic, environmental and public health of communities". It's not just about the trails, it's about how people and communities can utilize them for a better,