Missouri’s Katy Trail becomes nation’s longest; Washington’s John Wayne Pioneer Trail falls to No. 2

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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.

Trestle on Katy Trail

Trestle on Katy Trail

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.

Katy Trail and Rock Island Spur (click for large view)

Katy Trail and Rock Island Spur (click for large view)

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):

  1. Katy Trail State Park — Missouri: 286 miles
  2. John Wayne Pioneer Trail — Washington: 253 miles
  3. Cowboy Trail — Nebraska: 195 miles
  4. Great Allegheny Passage — Maryland & Pennsylvania: 150 miles
  5. Soo Line Trail – Northern Route — Minnesota: 148 miles
  6. Columbia Plateau Trail State Park — Washington: 130 miles
  7. Paul Bunyan State Trail — Minnesota: 121 miles
  8. Flint Hills Nature Trail — Kansas: 117 miles
  9. Soo Line Trail – Southern Route & Saunders State Trail — Minnesota & Wisconsin: 114 miles
  10. OC&E Woods Line State Trail — Oregon: 110 miles
  11. George S. Mickelson Trail — South Dakota: 109 miles
  12. Blue Ox Trail (Voyageur Trail) — Minnesota: 107 miles
  13. State Line Trail — Michigan: 107 miles
  14. Wild Rivers State Trail — Wisconsin: 104 miles

Permanent link to this article: https://www.bikingbis.com/2016/12/17/missouris-katy-trail-becomes-nations-longest-washingtons-john-wayne-pioneer-trail-falls-to-no-2/


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    • cliff on December 22, 2016 at 10:44 am
    • Reply

    What about the Potomac Heritage Trail? Wouldn’t the PHT be the longest in
    the US?

    1. I don’t know the length of the Potomac Heritage Trail, but this story should have been more clear to explain the Katy is the longest “rail-trail.” One of the main sections of the Potomac Heritage is the C&O Canal towpath, so it wouldn’t qualify. Sounds like a fine trail, though.

    • Perry on January 10, 2017 at 1:52 pm
    • Reply

    The John Wayne is not 253 contiguous miles anyway. It’s 110 and about 135 if you throw in the connected Snoqualmie Valley Trail portion. The rest of the trail is a disjointed, hodge podge of old unmaintained trail bed that may or may not be accessible at various times of the year and at at property owner’s whim provided you’ve filled out the difficult to find government forms. It’s beautiful country and worth the effort but it is not a rail trail at this time.

    • Me on January 15, 2017 at 9:08 am
    • Reply

    The Katy Trail is not paved. I have a Trek road bike and found parts of the trail to be extremely rough and full of pot holes. Take what you think you will need for a day trip.

      • Mark on March 4, 2017 at 9:32 am
      • Reply

      I rode the KATY in June ’16, with my two teenage boys on Raleigh RX 2.0 cyclocross bikes that we rented from Big Shark in St. Louis. The trail was in great shape at that time, and other than a tube pinch or two along the way, we had an amazing 4 days on the trail. I highly recommend this trail.

    • Aaron Allen on January 17, 2017 at 10:53 am
    • Reply

    Having ridden on #2 and #6, I feel like these are disingenuous. These are not trails that can be ridden without a lot of work and route finding.

    The John Wayne trail has a middle segment which is an active railroad so the route follows roads or other trails for at least 30 miles. The state has a very agreeable trail west of Ellensburg, a passable trail to the Columbia river, no real way to cross the Columbia (I thumbed a ride in an RV) and poor trail to the east for at least 50 miles where I abandoned a goal of crossing the state on trails.

    The Columbia crest trail has missing trestles and ballast that is un-rideable except by FAT tire bikes or when there is more than 6 inches of snow it might be skiable. Both ends of the trail are easy to use but the middle ninety miles are so rarely used that anyone who writes about them is seen as a glutton for punishment or having sunstroke due to the near total lack of trees.

    • Ted blaszak on February 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm
    • Reply

    Please visit savethejohnwaynetrail.com and sign our petition to save the trail!!!

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