In the 1960s and 1970s, railroad tracks were abandoned across the country, and now, long stretches of former rail tracks have been, or will be, turned into trails.
And in Kansas, the rail-trail conversion and creation process has resulted in over 100 miles of usable trail throughout the state with 100+ either in the concept or project stage. See above for a map of the current and proposed trails.
The longest trail in the state will be the 117 mile Flint Hills Nature Trail, and with a $2.4 million grant, by 2014, it should be completed between Osawatomie to Herington. It will also connect up to the completed and open Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, which runs between Ottawa to Iola and connects to the Southwind Rail Trail, which runs between Iola to Humboldt.
The Flint Hills Nature Trail also links up with the 300+ mile Katy Trail in Missouri via the Indian Creek Streamway Trail and Blue River Trail in the Kansas City area.
Making these trails is a huge undertaking. Planning out the location and getting funding, clearing brush and installing crushed limestone, then maintaining the trail – it’s a big job, and the work is primarily volunteer. One non-profit converting these former railways into trails for foot, bike, and horse traffic, is the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy.
On the Prairie Spirit Trail
Former Director of Development at Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, Clark Coan agreed to answer a few of our questions about the Kansas rail-trails.
Kansas Trail Guide: When did the rail to trail conversion start in Kansas?
Clark: The Rails-to-Trails Coalition of Kansas began working on railbanking the Landon Trail in 1987.
Kansas Trail Guide: How many volunteer hours does it take to create a rail-trail?
Clark: It depends upon the length of the trail. The longer the trail, the longer it takes. Funding is the main thing which slows up development. Generally, it takes 1,000s of volunteer hours to complete a trail.
Kansas Trail Guide: Is there a trail or part of a trail that’s a personal favorite to walk or ride?
Clark: I guess my favorite right now is riding the Flint Hills Nature Trail from Rantoul to Osawatomie. It has a tree canopy and goes along bluffs towering above the Marias Des Cygnes River.
Kansas Trail Guide: Is there anything that most people don’t realize about the rails-to-trails program in Kansas that they should know about?
Clark: Many Kansans don’t know they exist but they are gradually being discovered. They allow Kansans to have adventures close to home.
Kansas Trail Guide: What is the historical significance of the rail-trails?
Clark: The railroads helped open up the West to settlement. Towns sprung up along railroads and settlers rode the trains to their new homes. The rail lines generally followed historical trails such as the Santa Fe Trail which typically followed Indian trails.
Kansas Trail Guide: What do you feel is the impact of the rail trails on Kansas tourism?
Clark: Tourism from rail-trails can help small towns survive. Trail users need food, gas, lodging and souvenirs. The boost to a small town’s economy may help it stay alive.