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The Lake News Online
  • Day Trippin': Cycling on the Frisco Highline Trail

  • The Katy Trail State Park may be the longest Rails-to-Trails project in the nation, but it sure isn’t the only one in Missouri. The Ozarks, in fact is full of bike trails. Jefferson City, Columbia and the Springfield area boast at least a dozen and all are manageable in a single day away from the Lake.


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  • The Katy Trail State Park may be the longest Rails-to-Trails project in the nation, but it sure isn’t the only one in Missouri. The Ozarks, in fact is full of bike trails. Jefferson City, Columbia and the Springfield area boast at least a dozen and all are manageable in a single day away from the Lake.
    I’ve ridden the Katy Trail — at least the 100 miles between St. Charles and Jefferson City — and from that trip I learned that the Missouri River runs downhill toward St. Louis. That means my ride turned out to be all uphill. Since no railroad grade is ever more than three percent, no Rails-to-Trails route is ever steeper than three percent. Nonetheless, a constant grade eventually takes its toll on the weekend biker.
    Ever since then, I never leave any Rails-to-Trails bicycle ride to chance.
    I approached the 35-mile Frisco Highline Trail between Springfield and Bolivar scientifically:  I checked the elevation.  After learning that the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport is 1,267 feet above sea level, Walnut Grove, about midway along the trail lies at 1,207 feet, and Bolivar’s elevation is 1026 feet, it was a no-brainer.  I rode from Springfield to Bolivar — downhill all the way. More or less.
    It was a grand ride. The Highline Trail is one of eight popular Rails-to-Trails routes that have grown up in the Springfield area since the Katy Trail State Park opened about 20 years ago. The mostly gravel trail follows the old Frisco Railroad right-of-way almost due north from Springfield through rolling farmland and thick woods.
    Equipped with the knowledge that our ride would be essentially downhill, we parked at the Springfield Trailhead and set out. It is easy to find on the far north side of town near the airport. The trailhead has a parking lot and a big sign but no restrooms or water.  And though there is a McDonald’s near the 5-mile marker of the Highline Trail and a few places to eat near the trail in Willard, riders should plan to carry water and snacks with them.
    We set out around 9 a.m. on a gorgeous June morning.  Summer was simply bursting out all around us, and our ride was enriched by a showy display of wildflowers, bright birds and even a few quick-moving lizards.
    From Springfield, we followed pavement for about eight miles. We met a few cyclists returning home from early morning rides and a couple of joggers. Further up the trail, we passed a woman, a dog wearing panniers and a boy of about six on a bike with training wheels.  But for the most part, since it was a weekday, we had the trail to ourselves. Our companions for the ride were flashy cardinals, a blue jay or two and a startled squirrel that skittered off the trail as we pedaled by.
    Page 2 of 2 - Even though my earlier research said otherwise, my legs told me that the trail from Springfield to Walnut Grove has a slight uphill tilt. From Walnut Grove to Bolivar, however, there were many stretches where I barely needed to pedal. The crushed gravel that covers the trail most of the way made it a comfortable ride and, except for a few cattle guards, we had no challenges. Instead, it was a day redolent with the sweet smell of honeysuckle and flashes of blue spiderwort, tight white yarrow, wild roses, blooming rose mallow and a host of other wildflowers I couldn’t begin to identify. 
    At one point, while I was stopped to take a picture of a butterfly, I noticed an approaching rider in the far distance.  As I turned my camera that direction, I realized it wasn’t someone on a bicycle at all. My first thought was some sort of three-wheeler, but as it approached, a smart little mule came into focus pulling a two-wheeled sulky. I snapped pictures as they drew near, and then introduced myself.  
    The driver, an affable gentleman with a bushy white mustache, introduced himself as Jerry Parrish and his two-year-old mule colt as Sioux.
    The pair made quite a picture. Parrish’s red shirt and the red seat of the sulky complemented the boy-named-Sioux’s silver-studded harness, soft red chest pad and purple halter.
    The man and the little mule are regulars on the Highline Trail he told me — at least the part between Willard and Walnut Grove where horses are allowed. The rest of the way, the trail is strictly for foot traffic and bicycles.
    After a few minutes visiting, we bid them good-bye and pedaled on north toward Bolivar.
    Before the ride was over, we had crossed 16 railroad bridges and passed a handful more riders. One of the bridges, across the Little Sac River, was built in the 1880s. Thankfully, it has been altered for bicyclists to use. The north end of the trail, like the south, is paved. It ends in downtown Bolivar. For us, that was a good thing, as it gave us a chance to stroll around to find a late lunch.
    Thirty-five miles was enough that I was a bit stiff the next day, but the relatively straight-and-level nature of the trail makes it one to do again on another nice day - and to bring visiting friends and family when they need a respite from the Lake.
    Know before you go
    Although the trail itself is great, services are limited to nonexistent. Bring water and snacks. There are no restrooms and at this point, there are no bike rental opportunities. The Frisco Trail Mini Storage and Bike Depot is located on Hwy. 60 along the trail. It offers indoor and outdoor storage, where you can keep your bike and ride with no hassle. Air, water and vending machines are available to the public. www.friscotrailm

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