As I mentioned in a previous post, I took a trip to four of the six states that I somehow never visited. In each state, I stopped in one city to bicycle the length of a rail-to-trail. Here's what I found in my wanderings in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas:
The Keystone Trail - Omaha, Nebraska
This trail is very well used not just by cyclists, but also parents pushing strollers, families walking with kids in tow, joggers, and bladers. Having a well-maintained trail so close to downtown certainly motivates members of the community to get into a fitness mode. And, though I didn't feel far removed from my urban environment -- a network of highways were withing sighting distance and when I neared the airport jets roared overhead -- the trail allowed me to get "in the zone" as I pedaled parallel to the rippling Papio Creek, past the sprawling lawns of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and St. Mary's campuses, and the small copse of shade trees in Esther Pilsner and Democracy parks. Tall, delicate grasses waved beside the trail while plump clouds bumped up against each other as they drifted above. With Missouri River flooding that has affected Omaha, it was no wonder that part of the trail, at the Bellevue Loop, was closed.
The Landon Nature Trail - Topeka, Kansas
This sun-dappled mostly dirt/crushed stone trail literally starts smack in the city (right beside Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site) and cuts through agricultural lands. It couldn't be more convenient but it wasn't swarming with cyclists or walkers because I was bicycling in the middle of the workday. And, though the entire almost 13-mile peaceful trail is technically open, the last couple of miles is so thick with gravel and stones and overgrown with weeds, that I had to turn around. What I found on my tranquil journey were expansive farms growing corn, alfalfa and soybeans, colorful moths fluttering in front of my face, tall cottonwood and ash trees and a brilliant display of wildflowers.
Osage Prairie Trail - Tulsa, Oklahoma
Railroad fans will especially enjoy cycling this paved path that has a reproduction of an original mileage marker and Osage Prairie signs that are replicates of railroad crossing signs. This path also crosses over several different types of bridges, including an original trestle bridge constructed of core 10 steel and another that's a plate-girder type. But it's not just railroad fans that will be fascinated by this trail that provides scenic views of the Tulsa skyline at the trailhead, but also birdwatchers and nature lovers. That's because the trail courses through a prime birding area, according to the National Audubon Society. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the candy red trumpet creepers while towering pecan, walnut and oak trees line the trail. When I cycled this path, many a creature crossed in front of my bike, including a tortoise, a weasel and a black snake. A former railroad car transfer station at the end of the trail in the town of Skiatook has been transformed into Central Park with its boldly-colored waterpark, curvy lake, blooming flowers and shaded benches. It's so well designed that the entire community, young and old alike, is attracted to this relaxing venue.
Arkansas River Trail - Little Rock, Arkansas
You're never far from the river along this trail that travels along both sides of the waterway that separates North Little Rock from Little Rock. After I started out with views of the old State House and Petit Rouge, the rock that gives the city its name, my trek became a little more exciting than I anticipated because I ended up cycling on the lone day that week when the city was hit by a violent thunder storm with torrential rains. Instead of heading indoors, I continued cycling -- this was the only day I had allotted for this trip so I didn't see an alternative -- until the rain impaired my vision. Once I pulled off to the side of the road, lightning struck a transformer 20 feet away, sending sparks flying in all directions. I immediately got back on the bike but, again, was forced to bail out and, coincidentally, lightning struck a tall tree directly across the road. I finally took shelter with half a dozen other cyclists in a nearby open-air pavilion where we waited it out. Once the storm abated, I continued along the path, passing tall red-tinged bluffs, an old quarry, the lush Emerald Park (a good mountain biking and hiking venues), the massive pedestrian-only Big Dam Bridge, and the spacious Murray Lock & Dam Park with its well-tended and densely forested sections.
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