Visitors on the Katy Trail can enjoy hiking, biking, walking or running for 240 consecutive miles across Missouri with one 1.4-mile exception in Sedalia.
When visitors reach Boonville Road in Sedalia, they are greeted with an asphalt city street and a small brown sign: “Katy Trail State Park. Follow 1.4 mile Street Route.” Once those visitors do their best to follow small Katy Trail signs with arrows posted under stop signs and street signs directing them through winding, narrow city streets, they emerge back on the Katy Trail near Hancock Avenue and Fourth Street at the rear of the Katy Depot.
The City of Sedalia, Katy Trail Sedalia Inc., and state Rep. Nathan Beard, R-Sedalia, have been working together to gain funding to complete the only disconnect in the Katy Trail.
David Brown is president of KTSI, a nonprofit formed in 1990 to help turn the then “abandoned” Katy Trail in Sedalia into a biking trail. That goal was largely completed in 1996, Brown told the Democrat, when it was connected from St. Charles to Sedalia and a few years later the trail was connected from Sedalia to Clinton, leaving a roughly four-mile gap.
Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County later helped acquire land to bring the trail to its current state.
“That’s when my group started working on acquiring private rights-of-way to get a corridor all the way into the Depot,” Brown said. “It was pretty obvious through various negotiations we had with the railroad we weren’t going to get very far with them. … It became obvious we were going to have to have some of the trail on local streets but still endeavored to get as much as we could off the city streets.
“We purchased some private properties from 2000 to 2005. We brought 20-foot strips adjacent to the Katy line and the part we weren’t able to negotiate with the railroad we bought a private right-of-way adjacent to it.”
Beard said there was an agreement with Missouri State Parks that if those right-of-ways could be secured, it would come through and finish the trail, footing the estimated $1.3 million bill.
KTSI has acquired all the needed land, spending about $16,000 through donations to do so, and now the next step is constructing the trail connection.
“We found out it would be tough to support financially,” City Administrator Gary Edwards said. “The city and the Katy Trail organization don’t have the funds. We came up with the idea of approaching the legislature.”
During a meeting last year about needed projects in Sedalia with local leaders, Beard and state Rep. Todd Richardson, who was the House majority leader at the time, Edwards brought up the Katy Trail disconnect, offering to have the city hire an engineer to prepare the specs and cost estimates.
The city hired Wilson Engineering and the Public Works Department put together a package for Beard to put into bill form.
Beard said no progress was made on the Missouri State Parks end after the initial agreement last year and he decided to begin talking with the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates funds to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, home of the Missouri State Parks.
Last Thursday, a delegation from Sedalia – Edwards, Brown, Mayor Stephen Galliher, Sedalia Police Department Cmdr. Dave Woolery, EDSPC Executive Director Linda Christle, and Jack Robinson and Justin Klaudt of KTSI – met with members of the House Appropriations Committee.
They spoke about the importance of connecting the trail for a number of reasons, especially safety concerns.
“People from around the world and nation are on that trail,” Edwards said. “They hit Sedalia and once they get off that trail, the roads are so narrow there’s a huge safety issue there. We can’t put lines on most of those narrow roads. It’s quite common for people to get lost because the trail is hard to follow. It’s a winding area and we’re trying to simplify that with this disconnect elimination.
“The impression people have of Sedalia, and Missouri for that matter, is that trail and when they get off the trail because of those issues – it’s hard to follow and safety – it creates a bad impression for Sedalia and of the state of Missouri.”
Beard said the Parks Director spoke after Sedalia’s presentation and offered no plans for the Katy Trail, saying funds had already been committed to other projects.
“The committee asked him why we’re starting new projects when old projects haven’t been finished,” Beard recalled. “That combined with the fact Parks has $30 million sitting in their account. They’ve been good stewards of not spending every dime, but they have that and we need $1.3 million.
“(The director) blamed the House; that committee cut the parks budget for certain reasons. I asked if the money was put back in the Senate side if they could fund the trail and they said yes.”
Beard said the Senate put the money back in the Missouri State Parks budget this week, but no decision has been made regarding funding for the Katy Trail disconnect project. He said he plans to work over the next few weeks to get the project on the priority list to be accomplished this year.
Time is running out though, as the legislative session ends May 13.
“When (the trail is completed), it could be a matter of fact we have the longest continuous rail trail in the country,” Brown said. “Up to now we’ve got a trail that comes about 185 miles into Sedalia then a gap where there is no trail then it picks up from the Depot and goes on into Clinton. For years they’ve been touting this as being a 240-mile continuous and it hasn’t been. When this is complete, we’ll have a continuous trail.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.