A simple name change for a 47.5-mile trail in Missouri means the Katy Trail is now the longest rail-trail in the US. Washington’s John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which had been No. 1 for several years, dropped to second place.
The identity change happened last Saturday as Missouri Gov. Ray Nixon dedicated a new trail running east of Kansas City as the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park. The new trail had been developed as the Rock Island State Park.
Identifying the Rock Island as a spur of the Katy Trail instead of an independent trail means the Rock Island’s mileage will be added to that of the Katy Trail.
Combining the Katy’s 238 miles with the spur’s 47.5 miles brings the total mileage to 285.5 miles, surpassing the 253-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington state.
The tourism benefits of having the longest rail-trail within its boundaries is not lost on Missouri officials. They have long promoted the Katy Trail as a bicycling tourism destination, helping the economies of small towns along the route.
Governor spokesman Scott Holste told the Kansas City Star:
“The Katy Trail has such a high name recognition and great image — and has had for more than 25 years — that it was logical to continue building on that with the section of the trail to the Kansas City area, and referring to that as the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park.”
Brandi Horton of Rails to Trails Conservancy is quoted: “However it’s characterized, it’s the longest continuous rails to trail system, and longest connected one.”
While the Katy Trail has been strengthened, supporters of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail are fighting a battle to help it survive. Efforts by eastern Washington legislators to turn over this public asset to private interests are still ongoing. Although the Washington State Parks Commission has proposed funding, the local legislators want that money to go elsewhere.
The Katy Trail gets its name from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy. The spur route takes its name from the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad, also simply known as the Rock Island.
The Rock Island Spur begins in the town of Windsor, near the western terminus of the Katy Trail. It heads northwest toward Kansas City, which is the eventual destination of the trail.
Here are the longest rail-trail conversions in the US, as calculated by Rails to Trails Conservancy (I recalculated the 1st and 2nd trails based on the changed noted above):
- Katy Trail State Park — Missouri: 286 miles
- John Wayne Pioneer Trail — Washington: 253 miles
- Cowboy Trail — Nebraska: 195 miles
- Great Allegheny Passage — Maryland & Pennsylvania: 150 miles
- Soo Line Trail – Northern Route — Minnesota: 148 miles
- Columbia Plateau Trail State Park — Washington: 130 miles
- Paul Bunyan State Trail — Minnesota: 121 miles
- Flint Hills Nature Trail — Kansas: 117 miles
- Soo Line Trail – Southern Route & Saunders State Trail — Minnesota & Wisconsin: 114 miles
- OC&E Woods Line State Trail — Oregon: 110 miles
- George S. Mickelson Trail — South Dakota: 109 miles
- Blue Ox Trail (Voyageur Trail) — Minnesota: 107 miles
- State Line Trail — Michigan: 107 miles
- Wild Rivers State Trail — Wisconsin: 104 miles