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Katy Trail rehabilitation progresses, but there still are two big projects to complete

Charles Dunlap
cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com
This photo shows flood damage July 9, 2019 in the Howard County bottoms from the Salt Creek bridge on U.S. Route 40. Rebuilding the Salt Creek Bridge is one of the final major projects to rehabilitate the Katy Trail's midwest section.

When flooding hit the region in 2019, one amenity greatly affected was the Katy Trail. Portions of the Midwest section were wiped out.

So, staff with the Katy Trail State Park went after federal funding to rehabilitate the trail.

“We were just amazed at how much of the trail was gone,” Park Superintendent Sarah Jones said at a Sunday public meeting at the Rocheport trail head. “So, our effort was to evaluate what was happening, how much damage we have and put in for public assistance to get [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to help.”

Park staff were successful in their efforts, she said.

“Except for the big-ticket items, most of the Midwest section has been repaired,” Jones said.

The 2019 flooding closed down a 100-mile portion of the 240-mile trail. One area that still needs to be addressed is at the Salt Creek Bridge in Howard County.

“It pretty much washed away, along with the levees through there,” Missouri State Parks Director Mike Sutherland said. “We are having to select design engineers to design the bridge and then we have funding in the budget to complete the bridge.”

A rock slide near Portland in Callaway County also had a major impact on the Katy Trail. Engineering design will need to take place at this location, as well, Sutherland said.

“We are actively trying to work to address that as well,” he said.

The park developed a new trails advisory map in response to the flood damage, Assistant Regional Supervisor Melanie Smith said.

Previously, visitors would have to visit the Katy Trail State Park Facebook page, where it would list trail advisories with location details and cause for closure.

“It was difficult for people who were not familiar with the mile marker system to figure out where those closures are,” Smith said.

So, staff worked with its Geographic Information Systems mapping team to develop an advisory map similar to the traveler information map used by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Advisories will be listed by color, such as yellow for caution. Red indicates a trail closure. Depending on location, detour information will be available through the map, Smith said.

“It is something easily accessible wherever you have cell service,” she said.

There were challenges this year for the trail system, with the prime one being COVID-19, Jones said. Park staff had to evaluate how best to reopen restrooms so people could still enjoy the outdoors. Solutions were to install additional water faucets so people could fill water bottles and adding rotations to the cleaning schedule.

“In March, we had to make some operational changes. Every week was a little bit different,” Sutherland said. “At the end of May we were able to turn that around and start opening our facilities back up.”

Despite the COVID-19 challenges, it also created opportunities, Sutherland said.

“If you go to any of our state parks, one thing that I noticed that there are a lot of new users,” he said. “We have seen a tremendous increase in visitation.”

Moving forward, parks staff are working to plant trees to celebrate the trail’s 30th anniversary. There is a plan to plant 11 trees in the Midwest section, Jones said. One of them was planted Sunday.

The section of the trail from Rocheport to Huntsdale is one of the oldest sections of the trail, Smith said.

“This was where we had our ribbon-cutting [April 1990],” she said.

A 30-year celebration originally planned in April was postponed, which is one reason for the planting of the 30 native Burr Oak trees.

Flood repairs will continue and there is a hope to bring back programming to Katy Trail State Park in 2021.

A small group of riders in June 2018 approach McBaine on the Katy Trail during the 18th annual Katy Trail Ride. Park officials are working to complete repairs from 2019 flooding and launching an app to show areas that are closed or have issues.