Apr. 3—Brent Hugh says he hears the same question from cyclists:
How can a rider get from the western edge of Missouri's Katy and Rock Island trail network to the eastern edge of Flint Hills Trail State Park in Kansas?
These are two of the longest rail-to-trail routes in the country already. The 290 miles of Katy/Rock Island spur will get you from Machens, near St. Louis, to Pleasant Hill, just south of Kansas City. Flint Hills Trail State Park is open and usable from Osawatomie, which is tantalizingly close to Kansas City, Kansas, to Council Grove, a distance of more than 90 miles. (Flint Hills Trail State Park is actually 117 miles long, although that section west of Council Grove is not improved and remains closed.)
The day will come when all this will be connected, likely through Kansas City.
Some people can't wait, however. So they call Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, who has taken it upon himself to attempt an answer, cobbling together an informal connector using low-stress, low-traffic gravel and backroads as well as existing cycling trail routes through the Kansas City area to link the two together.
"I just figured that for everyone who calls there are 100 other people out there" with the same question, Hugh said recently.
Combined, the two routes form the core of what Hugh called a "really momentous system."
Missouri has plans for a companion to the Katy, 140 miles of additional Rock Island route on the south side of the Missouri River, connecting at Windsor and around Washington.
The Flint Hills Trail, which will ultimately go to Herington, will eventually connect with the Landon and perhaps other planned trails, and already connects with the 60 miles of Prairie Spirit/Southwind at Ottawa, which gets into Southeast Kansas.
Add in all the connectors and one day you're talking a network of maybe 700 miles or more awaiting a "golden spike" connection in Kansas City.
But the big gap remains connecting the Katy/Rock Island with the Flint Hills. You can survey some of Hughes' route at this link: https://mobikefed.org/2020/10/how-connect-mos-katyrock-island-trail-kss-flint-hills-nature-trail-using-trails-low-stress.
None of this is official, none of this is marked or designated and vehicles may not be expecting cyclists.
Hugh has another trail passion, too: Finding a bike route for the Santa Fe Trail, which hits a milestone this year. It was 200 years ago, in 1821, that a trader named William Becknell made it from Missouri to Santa Fe, opening trade between the young United States and the Southwest.
Hugh, who calls himself "a history nerd" has been wandering and riding Kansas, looking for gravel roads and other low-stress, low-volume routes that would allow modern adventurers to trace the historic trail.
His website is worth watching.