Columbia, Missouri, is a lively college town known for its crafty cuisine, attractive art, and superb shopping. The buzzing downtown and eclectic culture throughout the city make it a destination for many.
Sometimes, though, what is needed is a break from that buzz, and that’s when Columbia’s miles of trails begin to beckon. Columbia’s trails are designed for commuting, fitness and recreation.
There are seven destination trails that combine to make over 20 miles of winding paths in and out of the city limits according to gocolumbiamo.com.
“The trails are free to use and add to the quality of life for Columbians,” said Tammy Miller, Columbia Parks and Recreation information specialist.
The Bear Creek Trail, Hinkson Creek Trail, and MKT Trail are the premier routes in Columbia that are used for multiple activities. These trails are covered with crushed limestone and are consistently 10 feet wide so they are good for walking, jogging or biking.
Knowing the history behind these trails can make the experience even more interesting..
In the 1970s the city adopted a greenway plan, which put the Rails-to- Trails movement and open space preservation plan into action. In 1977, the MKT railroad was abandoned creating the perfect situation for the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department to begin to develop the land.
The MKT Trail was the first to be opened in the city of Columbia in 1982. The 8.9 miles of paths consist of three phases. The third and final phase was completed in 1991, and additional trails have been connecting to the original ever since.
Beginning downtown in the Flat Branch Park, the MKT connects to the Boone County 4.2 mile trail near the southwest edge of town at Scott Blvd. From that point, the Boone County trail meets the Missouri Katy Trail near McBaine.
In the early 1990s, planning began for the Bear Creek Trail and by 1996 the initiation of the first phase began. The project developed into four phases connecting to make a trail of 4.8 miles.
The natural drainage system of Bear Creek is accompanied by this trail. Located in the northern portion of Columbia, the Bear Creek trail connects two premiere parks in town. This path stretches between the Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area and Albert/ Oakland Park.
By 2000, a partnership between the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and the University of Missouri had developed and so had an idea for the Hinkson Creek trail.
Something particularly unique about this trail in town is that phase I was finished by a private contractor but phase II was completed by the University of Missouri.
The first phase cuts its way in and out of nature and is complete with two bridges that mimic those that used to be found on the Missouri River. This portion is 2 miles and connects the Grindstone Nature Area to the Hinkson Creek Recreation Area on the MU campus. At that point, MU’s 2.25-mile portion of the trail begins and continues under Providence Rd., by Reactor Field, and past the University agricultural research fields until it reaches the MKT’s 2 mile marker.
The Parks and Recreation department of Columbia has hopes of “connecting the entire trail system in the future” according to Miller.
Each trail is easy to access, and many people do use them on a regular basis.
“There is always a new adventure waiting for me when I get out here,” said Justin McGuire who has been using these trails since he began school at MU in 2007.
Columbia is the home of two Missouri State Parks: Finger Lakes State Park and Rockbridge Memorial State Park. Each of these provide yet another place to appreciate the natural beauty the area has to offer.
At Finger Lakes State Park, the roar of ATVs and off-road motorcycles combine with a serene natural setting. An old coal mining area has been transformed into a motocross track at one of the two locations in the state where ATVs are permitted. The track, along with the surrounding terrain, create the site for the 2.25 mile Kelley Branch Mountain Bike Trail. While this trail can be challenging, the scenery, including a picture perfect waterfall, is more than a treat for riding the course.
Rockbridge Memorial State Park is outside of city limits just south of town and gives visitors a chance to bike, hike, jog, and journey through the natural paths and underground components of the scenic environment.
One of the shorter, more popular attractions of the park (especially in the blistering summer heat) is the Devil’s Icebox Trail. This especially cool, 0.5 mile trail consists of interesting geological features including a 63-foot high naturally made tunnel known as the Rock Bridge, an entrance to the Devil’s Icebox cave system and Connor’s Cave. The stairs leading up and down the limestone are not the only ways to get around. If one is looking for a little more adventure, they can create their own off-road routes throughout the park.
“This trail was a shorter one for a quick adventure with friends outside the city” Rachel Hartmann, a first time trail hiker said.
Whether looking for a quiet trail to commune with nature, or an alternative route to work, Columbia trails are the answer.