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Flooding on the Katy Trail

Hartsburg - A sign at the Hartsburg trailhead of the Katy Trail State Park warns the pedestrian and bicycle trail is closed ahead because of the Missouri River flooding on June 3, 2019.

HARTSBURG, Mo. Instead of cars, pedestrians and bicyclists, the parking lot at this stop along Missouri’s cross-state Katy Trail bike path is filled with pallets of sandbags ready to help fend off the rising Missouri River.

While it remains dry in this southern Boone County town of 106, miles of the trail are under water, upending travel plans and undoing business models for the companies that cater to trail users.

“It was pretty much the worst Memorial Day ever,” said Jamie Ciszek, manager of Augusta Brew Haus, a trailside pub on the western edge of St. Charles County where bikers often stop for a drink and a burger as they traverse the crushed-gravel path.

To the west, Rick Hockemeyer sounded a similar note about the flood’s effect on business at his Mokane Market in southern Callaway County.

“It’s killing it. We’re doing half the amount of business,” Hockemeyer said.

Although both report some bicyclists are still trying to make the journey using the trail and associated detours, business has dried up as the river has flooded the bottomlands through which the 237-mile-long trail runs.

At mile marker 39, the pathway is flooded out at Frontier Park in St. Charles County.

Flood-related closures are spotty through Weldon Spring, Augusta and Treloar, but the trail becomes essentially impassable for some 80 miles between Bluffton and New Franklin. Roads that could serve as detours also are under water.

On a normal day, a rider might see deer, squirrels and foxes on the stretch between Hartsburg and Claysville. Now, there are fish jumping from the pools of water that line the 12-foot-wide trail.

Flooding, however, is a key reason the trail exists.

The name comes from the rail line that once ran along its path—the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, first nicknamed the “K-T.”

The segment of the MKT system between Boonville and St. Charles ran along the floodplains of the Missouri River.

The line suffered multiple washouts over the years as the river rose and fell. After an especially damaging flood in 1986, the railroad abandoned the line.

In April 1990, the first section of the trail opened between Rocheport and McBaine. Last year, the trail drew nearly 380,000 people, with about 70% of those local users and 30% people who are traversing the whole trail, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

While there are 26 stops in towns along the stretch, some of those are now blocked by water.

Motorists cannot get to the parking lot of the North Jefferson trailhead across the river from the state capital. And, even if someone enters from a spur connecting the trail with nearby Holts Summit, he or she can only go for about 1 mile to the east before hitting a wall of sandbags.

There’s no way to go west because Turkey Creek, which empties into the nearby Missouri River, is backed up with flood water.

And trail conditions likely won’t be back to normal after the water recedes.

The river is likely to wash out much of the top layer of crushed gravel, forcing DNR worker to spend time smoothing the surface and replacing the rock.

“We won’t really know what we’ll be dealing with until the water goes down,” said Melanie Smith, DNR’s Katy Trail coordinator. “It will take a while to assess all that once the water goes down.”

Although the trail was still in its formative stages when the Flood of 1993 hit, more than 100 miles of the pathway had to be rebuilt in its aftermath, she said.

Back across the river, the Red Wheel Bike Shop has temporarily closed because of flooding in downtown Jefferson City.

“The river has won this round. The recent crest has closed West Main and has taken over our parking lot making it almost impossible to get to the store,” the shop said in a Facebook post last week. “This is only a temporary setback and we plan to open back up as soon as possible.”

The business also will take a hit from the cancellation of this year’s annual Katy Trail Ride, which was scheduled for June 17-21.

The ride, which draws people from around the country to make the trek, is an opportunity for businesses along the route to show off their wares and promote themselves for future rides.

Smith said she’s aware of other group rides that have changed their plans after learning of the flooding. In addition, she said DNR has contacted groups that were planning rides.

“We have had a handful of events that have cancelled,” Smith said.

Ciszek said the trail has been hit by a triple-whammy in Augusta.

Along with the flooding, a tornado blew trees onto the path and a bridge replacement project on the trail has stopped riders from passing through.

“Yes, our business is feeling the effects. This whole summer is kind of big wash for all of us along the trail,” she said.