Some readers will remember that earlier this month I wrote about a delightful joyride and the wonderful people I met along the Blue River Rail Trail in Marysville, Kansas. In that post, I mentioned that the trail was actually a link in a much larger four state trail system that would eventually span Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
Today that system moved one step closer to completion. Our friends at Kansas Cyclist have announced that the Chief Standing Bear Trail, a 20 mile missing link in the network that connects Marysville to Lincoln NE, is now open. It’s now possible to ride on car-free trails all the way from Marysville to Lincoln, 90 miles north, and then on to the suburbs of Omaha via the rapidly developing Mopac Trail corridor. It will soon be possible to go even further.
The four state network I’ve dubbed “Trails Central” is quietly taking shape. Anchored by two of America’s longest bike-friendly rail trails (Missouri’s iconic Katy Trail and Nebraska’s wild and scenic Cowboy Trail), the network will eventually link the region’s largest cities and provide interconnects to other trail systems including the rapidly expanding system in Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the Midwestern rail trail network taking shape in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
In fact, the map is starting to fill to the point where the gaps are smaller than what is already completed, in place and open. This is exciting news. It is bringing new life to communities that have struggled to transition economically to a changing world. It is providing a tremendous recreation and tourism resource, one that can serve double duty as a transportation network.
This is good, and it’s all thanks to a group of dedicated people in the heartland of America who are quietly building out the bicycling equivalent of the interstate highway system. They’re doing it mostly at the grassroots level. They’re doing it in spite of protests from local landowners who fear what trails might mean to their landholdings and communities. These folks are scraping together funding from a variety of sources and applying it in innovative ways to do as much as possible. They are winning hearts and minds along the way and, in the process, changing the way we look at our transportation grid.
I know. I’ve ridden the trails. I’ve talked to the people building them. I have more trips planned. I want to ride the Cowboy Trail from Norfolk to Valentine. I envision a trip from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the heart of Kansas City, all on trail. I’d like to return to Marysville and ride to Omaha and back. By the time I get to do it again, maybe it will be possible to go all the way to Minneapolis, or Duluth, or Thunder Bay. That would be awesome.
If you find your travels pointing you into America’s wonderful heartland, bring your bike. I have a number of contacts in this region that I would be happy to connect you with. They’re wonderful people who share our passion. They’re building a very special legacy…a gift to America. If and when you see them, please thank them for me…again.