A little about the people behind the Katy Trail

Recently I spent a fascinating day with Pat Jones.

It is thanks to Pat and her husband, Edward "Ted" Jones (founder of the financial company Edward Jones), who donated $2.2 million for property acquisition along the abandoned Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, that we have the Katy Trail. The 240-mile rail-trail nearly crosses the state and will soon link to the quad-state route connecting Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

The Katy Trail is popular with tourists and forms part of the Lewis and Clark Adventure Cycling Route. Locals use it for daily recreation. I've been on it dozens of times between Boonville and Tebbetts. A favorite jaunt is to ride from Columbia to Rocheport for biscuits and gravy on a Sunday morning, or ice cream on an afternoon, enjoy the tunnel and the lookout, and ride back. As popular as it is now, it's hard to believe the fierce battle it took to get it built.

The 1980's saw the abandonment of many railroads. Often the property reverted to adjacent landowners, but timely action by forward-thinking people like Pat and Ted Jones saved some corridors for rail-trails. The MKT Railroad was abandoned after a 1986 flood. The first segment of trail opened in 1990, in Rocheport.

Farmers all along the route, egged on by Farm Bureau, resisted the trail. Pat and Ted spent a lot of time lobbying in Jefferson City. In a twist of fate, the farmers have come around during the last 20 years and the very people who had campaigned against it actually signed a petition to extend and protect the trail. These former opponents are now city and county officials in the little communities that line the trail--communities that depend on trail tourism for their economy.

Sadly, Ted Jones did not live to see the trail. Today, Pat Jones is a strong supporter of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation. She lives on the farm that she and Ted bought in 1954. They spent the first year building a pond and planting pine trees. It wasn't until the next year that they built a house.

This farm is now the 900-acre Prairie Fork Conservation Area. Unlike most Missouri Conservation Areas, Prairie Fork is much more than an undeveloped plot of land for hunting and fishing. Prairie Fork hosts field trips for one school group or another nearly every day of the school year. Prairie Fork is the site of Fisheries & Wildlife classes and Americorps internships.

The floor of the shelter is a work of art, covered in animal tracks. All native Missouri mammals are represented. Only the left paw print of extinct mammals appears. One mammal left the paw prints "in person": a field mouse ran across the cement when it was still wet. A set of turkey tracks converges with a set of bobcat tracks at a set of scuffle marks, but only the bobcat tracks continue, telling a little story. North of the shelter the soil shed contains a 60-foot core sample that has soil a million years old. Piece by piece, the old fields are being planted with native prairie grasses, and seeds saved in the seed shed.

Pat and Ted Jones' legacy, the Katy Trail is an important part of why American Trails Magazine named Missouri the Best Trails State this year. It is a gem for Missouri and it is the lifeblood of an entire economy that has sprung up around bicycle tourism in little communities along the river, an economy that has had far more impact than the tiny bit of farmland would have helped the adjacent landowners. The Katy Trail is the longest rail-trail, but rail-trails don't have to be very long to have a major impact on the community. With the assistance of groups such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the process doesn't have to be a bitter feud between cyclists and farmers. When any railway is being abandoned, we should jump on the chance to make a rail-trail.