Last year was a great year for bike trails. Not only did a new mountain biking trail get opened in Steelville, but the state of Missouri also announced a new rails-to-trails project, the Rock Island Trail, that will run from Beaufort to Kansas City and link up to the Katy Trail. It’s not enough.
We have a decent trail system throughout the area. Cuba, St. James, and Bourbon all have wonderful hiking and biking trails and now both Steelville and St. James have mountain bike trails. What we are lacking, however, is a good system of longer trails that can connect the region.
St. James is working on its first longer trail, one that will connect the city with Maramec Spring Park. It is being developed in cooperation with the James Foundation and Missouri Department of Conservation. It will go through Woodson K. Woods Conservation Area on its way to the park and should provide a wonderful, scenic, and challenging route for local bikers.
Steelville should work on a similar route in cooperation with Crawford County and the Missouri Department of Transportation. An established route from Steelville would not only link up the city with Maramec Spring Park, but it would also link up Steelville and St. James. That can only be good for both cities.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the popularity of biking is exploding across the country. Much of that growth has to do with the ongoing pandemic, which has created a boom for the outdoor industry in general, but the rise in biking has been coming on for years, especially in mountain and gravel biking.
And while bike trails continue to be developed across Missouri, the state’s biking infrastructure simply isn’t what it should be. All you have to do to see that is travel the country. Many states offer far more biking opportunities with extensive trails within cities and longer trails that often transect the entire state. Many are paved, but many are also gravel or dirt, and they all offer outdoor fun for both bikers and hikers alike.
On the heels of the Rock Island Trail development announcement made by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources last month, community leaders in Cuba, St. James, and Steelville (along with other cities in the region) need to come together to push for a similar trail in our area of the state. We have a potential diamond in the rough in our own back yard that is yearning to be developed.
There is no better time than now, especially with millions of stimulus dollars flowing into our state, than for local leaders to push for the redevelopment of the old lead line railroad from Cuba to Viburnum into a bike trail. Let’s develop the Lead Line Trail!
The old railroad route has been mothballed for years now and will likely never be reopened or fully abandoned and given back to adjacent property owners because of an expensive cleanup that could be required. The entire line is most likely contaminated with lead from decades of use, but that doesn’t prevent it from being safely converted to a hiking and biking trail.
Undoubtedly there will be critics and pushback from property owners along the lead line. Even with the Rock Island Trail, the Missouri Farm Bureau was quick to criticize the announcement in defense of the rights of adjacent property owners. That new trail, however, is not infringing on anyone’s property rights and neither would development of the Lead Line Trail. The old lead line is never going to be returned to local property owners, as the old Salem line was.
Fears of trespassing, vandalism, and burglaries were voiced by property owners along the Katy Trail line when it was proposed for development. They never materialized. Bikers and hikers simply aren’t trespassers, vandals, and burglars. Bikers and hikers are eaters, drinkers, shoppers, and sleepers, just ask business owners in places like Augusta and Marthasville. The Katy Trail has been an economic boom across its entire length.
Developing the Lead Line Trail would be a win-win for all involved. The region would get another year-round tourist attraction and the railroad could rid itself of the old rail line that is now nothing more than a liability.
We should be this done. We can get this done. More bike trails, please!