Trail of the Month: March 2007
Nebraska's Keystone Trail
What first strikes you on Omaha's Keystone Trail are the variety of people who use the urban-to-rural corridor. High-velocity gearheads in vibrant spandex call out to one another as they cycle by. College students from the town's many universities jog single-mindedly between classes. Older residents stroll to any of the nine parks along the way. And professionals laugh together during their lunch-hour work-out walk.
On an Indian summer day, the 12-mile Keystone Trail is the gathering place for Nebraskans who know they have to make the most of the warm weather before autumn—and its chill—finally set in. But until then, the air smells like dandelions and Papillion Creek—running adjacent to the trail along its entire length—is rippling in the sun on its way to the Missouri River, just five miles to the east.
Start your trip from the trailhead in Democracy Park and head south into town. For the majority of the trip you are riding atop the flood control levees of Little Papillion Creek, occasionally crossing back and forth over the water on bridges along the way. The concrete-surfaced corridor runs wide and, especially in the more park-like northern section and agricultural expanses of the south, grasshoppers will leap along beside you at their own peril.
While the trail only runs on the actual railbed for 2.3 miles, the railroad's influence can't be missed. Just before Mile 1 is a high railroad bridge that the trail passes under through a sheltered awning. If train cars are stopped on the tracks, the effect is a powerful reminder of the area's industrial past. And just prior to Mile 6 at Heritage Park, a wooden trestle rests across the riverbank to the east. A future east-west trail connector is also in the works—one of the few in the city—and will run on a former railroad corridor from Karen Park to 55th Street. Pilings can also be spotted along the trail, usually near creek-crossings.
A portion of the Keystone Trail runs through an industrial park area, however the automobile traffic isn't a problem for trail users. The only time the trail isn't a flat gentle ride is when it dips beneath the roads on underpasses. Trail users can either access the road, or avoid traffic altogether. Signs ask cyclists to be alert for on-coming trail-traffic. As you meander out of the commercial district, the trail enters several neighborhoods and parks where yellow, fallen leaves blanket the grass, and Little Papillion Creek transitions into Big Papillion Creek. Here, the landscape opens up to reveal the vast, square tracts of farmland for which the Cornhusker State is known. Near Mile 13, you can access the spur for West Papio Trail to the west, or continue south on the Bellevue Loop Trail which is generally considered an extension of the Keystone Trail. Together, the Keystone and Bellevue provide 24 miles of uninterrupted trail. The final stretch bends toward the Missouri and around Offutt Air Force Base. Just past Mile 20, the trail turns sharply north and follows the Missouri River to the endpoint at Hawthorn Park.
And your trail adventure doesn't have to end there. Omaha offers 80 miles of trails around its city, and just across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the 63-mile Wabash Trace beckons. One thing is certain, in this corner of Nebraska, trails are treasures.
For More Information. To plan your trip, visit visitomaha.com for hotel and restaurant suggestions. For more information on the Keystone Trail, call 402-444-5900.