Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bicycling Four Rails-to-Trails

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.

26 comments:

Richter's said...

Fantastic, I loved reading these about your travels on these four trails. We'll still have to get you out on the "Big Mick" out here in South Dakota. We'll look forward to when we can make it work.

Which was your favorite?

-Katlyn Richter
South Dakota Dept. Tourism
@travelsd
www.travelsd.com

Johanna B said...

Thanks for mentioning Kansas. I've done the Landon trail several times and it isn't always empty. Looking forward to trying out some of the others you mention.

JTravel said...

Hi Katyln, Glad you enjoyed my post. And I look forward to either biking or cross country skiing the "Big Mick" in 2012.

JTravel said...

Hi Johanna, It's good to know that the Landon trail is well used, too. Hope you have a chance to check out some of these other rails-to-trails.

NoPotCooking said...

We have a very popular rails to trails system in my area, so it's nice to know there are other ones across the country. It sounds like a fun trip!

Susan Johnston said...

Haven't biked since I was a kid and had a bike accident that knocked out my two front teeth, but I'd love to get back into biking. Such a wonderful way to get around, especially when you're exploring a new place!

JTravel said...

HI NoPotCooking, It's always wonderful to find a rail-to-trail. The Rails to Trails Conservancy has a great website where I can plug in a city and find a trail. What could be better?

JTravel said...

Hi Susan, Wow, if that happened to me, I don't know if I'd be in the saddle either.

Jennifer Margulis said...

I'm in awe of your job and the life you lead. Take me with you?! I love love to bicycle. This was fun to read.

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Interesting that there's a Keystone Trail in Nebraska - I grew up in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, so you've inspired me to do a little research into this moniker!

Sheryl said...

I'd love to travel around by bicycle. Funny that I read this tonight - I was cycling by the beach today, and finished up JUST as a huge thunderstorm hit. That must have been very frightening for you!

Living Large said...

Thanks again for this list and detail on this trip. I'm a Kansas native now living in Arkansas, so two of these are of particular interest to me. I see a weekend trip in my future!

JTravel said...

Hi Jennifer, I didn't know you were a cyclist. Yeah! Glad you enjoyed the post.

JTravel said...

Hi Casey, Yes, that is an interesting point. I wonder what you found out on that?

JTravel said...

Hi Sheryl, That storm in Little Rock was, by far, the scariest storm I've ever bicycled through.

JTravel said...

Hi Living Large, Sounds like a great idea. If you do decide to do either of those rails-to-trails, let me know. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

MyKidsEatSquid said...

I thought of you when I was in Indiana Amish country this past weekend. The person we were staying with mentioned the Heritage Trail, which he said was an old train line that had been turned into a bike trail. Sounds like an amazing way to explore.

JTravel said...

HI MyKidsEatSquid, Oh, I would've loved to have biked that trail. I'm in love with rails-to-trails, for sure.

ruth pennebaker said...

What a great post. I love these converted trails being used once again.

JTravel said...

Hi Ruth, Yes, I hate it when something, including old railroad beds, are just dug up and tossed away to make room for another mall.

Melanie Haiken said...

Near my house in San Rafael a bike trail on an old rail line includes an old train tunnel that's been reopened, connecting two towns on opposite sides of a high mountain. It's made such a change in all of our lives to be able to cycle right through the mountain!

Donna Hull said...

Rails to trails are such a great way to experience an area while staying active. We have many bike paths in Montana's Bitterroot Valley (none are rails to trails). You just made me want to dust off my bike and start pedaling.

JTravel said...

Hi Melanie, I totally agree. Having a rail-to-trail in a community is a great way to get people of all ages fit. We often talk about the health in our communities and that kids are becoming more and more overweight because, among other things, they're not exercising. This would be a great way to get kids and their parents out on trails that would be safe and easy to pedal, while enjoying nature.

JTravel said...

Hi Donna, I'd love to check out some of those bike trails in the Bitterroot Valley. I'm sure they're lovely.

Steve said...

Glad you finally made it to the middle of the country, where many people never hopw to visit... America is a great place full of hidden gems, the middle is no different.

JTravel said...

Hi Steve, Absolutely. Don't know why it took me so long to visit this part of the country. Just very glad I did.