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Progress on Missouri's Katy rail trail from 1996.

By Tom Uhlenbrock

Map of Missouri

Katy Trail users will have new vistas to explore by the end of the month.

Missouri on September 29, will open a 4-mile section from Treloar to Mokane, meaning a biker or hiker can get on the trail at St. Charles and travel 18 miles to Sedalia.

And the new section west from Treloar will be one of the most scenic.

"It's great -- a lot of folks are going to call it their favorite portion of the trail in terms of scenery," said Kristin Allan of the Department of Natural Resources, which operates the trail as a state park.

"You have towering limestone bluffs on one side and the Missouri River on the other," Allan said. "Every time I've been out there in winter I've seen bald eagle. Not just one or two -- lots of eagles."

The Treloar-to-Mokane section also has few towns and few accesses; a user can go for miles with nothing but river, bluffs and farm fields. "You feel a little more removed," Allan said. "You also see a little more wildlife."

The four-mile section has compacted gravel in place and is complete except for signs. The department wants people to keep off until September 29 so that work crews can install the final details.

"We really pushed to have it open by October," Allan said. "The wineries do a big business then, and we could have good fall color."

The section lived up to its advance billing on a sneak preview last week.

By dropping a car off at McKittrick, a tiny stop on the trail across the river from Hermann, a bike rider was able to travel 13 miles west form Treloar and not double back.

The trail has a parking lot at Treloar, across from the town's picturesque brick bank building, now a one-room post office.

A mile of so down the trail, the route crosses an old iron trestle bridge with a new wooden deck with railings. Only a strip of scouring rush stands between the trail and the wide Missouri River.

Grasshoppers, some big as hummingbirds, buzzed off on a rider's approach, and butterflies worked the purple thistle, black-eyed susans and other wildflowers that grew along the trail.

At the outskirts of Treloar, Dan Bayer was unlocking the door to the Riverview Boat Club at the river's edge. He stopped to express some of the concerns among residents.

While the trail has been a boon to businesses in the opened portions, most people on the unopened stretch worry it may spoil their privacy, Bayer said. "We're used to nobody around," said Bayer, 49, an autoworker who lives in Treloar. "But I like to bike myself. And it seems like a better bunch of people come through than if you had four-wheelers.

"People will get used to it as long as they stay on the trail and don't trespass. If it keeps the bikes off the highway, I guess it isn't a bad thing."

Farther west, the trail is the only thing between white limestone bluffs and a 20-foot drop to the Missouri.

Great blue herons lumbered from their perches on wing dikes in the river. A black swirl of turkey vultures looked for lunch. A green vine snake, skinny as a pencil and invisible in the brush, stood out as it sunned on the white gravel.

The trail passes perfect pines growing at the Pea Ridge Christmas Tree Farm. Along the route, neatly kept farmhouses stand high out of the reach of floodwater, overlooking the rich bottomlands below.

With the 185-mile run from St. Charles to Sedalia completed, the Katy Trail now has only the two ends left to develop. The 12-mile stretch from Machens to St. Charles on the eastern edge and some 30 miles from Sedalia to Clinton on the west could be opened next spring.

Allan said the last count, before the flooding of 1993, found nearly a quarter million people a year were using the trail. She said that figure could jump when the entire 230 or so miles is open.

"People have been calling us, asking when it's going to be done," she said. "In the next couple of years, we're going to have people coming in from all over the country to do the entire stretch."

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