Missouri lawmakers too often seem unaware of the concept “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
One of the recent examples is House Bill 2047, introduced by Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, which would allow people with disabilities and adults age 55 and older to use all-terrain vehicles and golf carts on the Katy Trail on the first and third Wednesday of each month. The vehicles would be limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour while on the trail, according to the language of the bill.
Houghton has argued that the bill benefits those who otherwise might not be able to enjoy the trail. There is a sliver of validity to his argument, but it seems this is a case of doing more harm than good – especially if you ask those who use the trail regularly.
As reported by Kurt Erickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Rachel Ruhlen, president of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, said the idea defeats the purpose of the Katy Trail, which draws people from around the world and brings $18 million in tourism spending because they can walk or bike in nature without interference from motorized vehicles.”
I have great admiration for the Katy Trail. I love how it winds through Sedalia and provides a scenic route for walkers, runners and bicyclists. Trail users also are a great community; as they pass each other they typically offer a greeting, whether audible or just a head nod. Either way, it’s an “I’m with you” acknowledgement. Throw motorized vehicles into the mix and that camaraderie will erode, along with the trail.
A fear generated by HB2047 is the impact it will have on the trail and its current users. Golf carts and ATVs no doubt will degrade the trail, even with use limited to two days per month. Also, there are sections that are narrow enough that those vehicles would force a typical trail user off of the surface as they pass. The bill has no provisions for funding the alterations the trail would need to accommodate motorized vehicles nor for enforcement of the age and speed limits.
In a way, the bill provides an over-the-top solution where a more reasonable one already exists. As the Columbia Missourian noted, “Electric bicycles have always been allowed on the trail along with motorized wheelchairs and scooters, according to the Missouri state parks website.”
HB2047 has been a topic of discussion on a thread on bikekatytrail.com. Those in favor of the bill contend critics are being irrational, especially since the change would be in effect only two days each month. On the other side, current users say the Katy Trail was intended to be a safe space for walkers, runners and bicyclists to enjoy nature away from motorized vehicles. They also cite, in addition to the damage vehicles would cause to the trail, exhaust fumes and noise that ATVs will create as detrimental to the serene atmosphere.
A St. Charles resident posted: “I love riding my ATV. It’s a great way to enjoy time with the family. But, we ride in appropriate places, not in close proximity to walkers. That’s just irresponsible.”
Action on the bill, which was sent to the House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, was postponed on Feb. 15 and no further hearings are scheduled. That does not mean it is off the books, but it ought to be.
The Katy Trail is one of Missouri’s treasures and a real asset to life in Sedalia and Pettis County. Residents should oppose any diminishing of this great resource.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.