Trail of the Month: November 2012
Missouri's Grant's Trail
Only 10 miles from the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo., fittingly lies Grant's Trail. Like the arch, which was built as a monument to westward expansion, the trail follows a former rail line that set out with an ambitious goal to reach all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Even though the tracks never made it that far, the trail has preserved much of the corridor's pioneering history and spirit.
While only eight miles long, the pathway has a lengthy list of unique sights, including Grant's Farm, named for the 18th president and Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant, who farmed in the area in the 1850s and hand-built the four-room log cabin called "Hardscrabble" that now sits on the property. Today, Grant's Farm—the former estate of the Busch family of Anheuser-Busch brewing company fame—is an animal park featuring bison, elephants, camels, peacocks and more than 100 other species, including its most iconic residents, the Budweiser Clydesdales.
White Haven, another home owned by Grant, can be found on the other side of the trail across from Grant's Farm. Before it belonged to Grant, White Haven was a slave plantation of the Dent family. That's where Grant met his future wife, Julia Dent, and they later lived at the home for several years before the Civil War. The National Park Service now operates the historical site.
While at White Haven, Grant approved construction of the Pacific Railroad (later known as the Missouri Pacific Railroad) through his property. Ground was broken for the railway in 1851, and it was billed at the time as "The First Railroad West of the Mississippi." Grant's Trail is built on the former Kirkwood-Carondelet Branch of the rail line.
The town of Kirkwood, where Grant's Trail now ends, was a planned community, established as soon as the railroad tracks reached it in 1853. It was named for the railroad's chief engineer, James Pugh Kirkwood, and remnants of its historical roots can be seen in the town's mid-to-late 19th century buildings, including the refurbished 1893 depot still in use today as an Amtrak train station.
An on-street connection, part of the Great Rivers Greenways' Bike St. Louis project, takes travelers from the trailhead to downtown Kirkwood and the historical depot. In an effort to make the city more bicycle friendly, more than 80 miles of these signed on-street Bike St. Louis routes are available throughout the city.
By 1990, Missouri Pacific had ended service along its Kirkwood-Carondolet line, and the following year Trailnet purchased the rail corridor. Working with the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department (which currently maintains the trail), Trailnet—an organization that promotes active communities in the St. Louis region—opened the first section of Grant's Trail, then known as the Carondelet Greenway Trail, in 1994. Great Rivers Greenway later took over the trail's development and added two more miles (to reach its current length of eight miles) in 2006.
Now, with more than half a million visitors a year, Grant's Trail has become an important recreational and regional connector. Part of this popularity is due to its easy access; the trail runs through several neighborhoods, often just behind people's backyards. Other sections are more wooded with views of ponds, wetlands and Gravois Creek, which it parallels.
"Grant's Trail is a rallying point. People have a sense of pride about it," says Carey Bundy, project manager for the Great Rivers Greenway. "The trail stretches along five or six jurisdictions, and they all come together for this trail."
Plans to extend the trail further are continuing. Nestled between the Meramec River to the west and the River des Peres to the east, Grant's Trail plays an increasingly key link in the River Ring, a growing 600-mile network of interconnected trails and on-street bicycle routes throughout the St. Louis region. Presently, more than 100 miles of trail have been built in 17 of 45 planned greenway corridors.
"We're in the design phase and have a conceptual alignment," says Bundy of the upcoming Grant's Trail connection to the River des Peres Greenway. "We're going to have a public open house this November to get comments from users of the trail. In 2013, we'll be getting the design finalized and should be able to start construction in 2014."
The trail currently ends only a mile from the River des Peres Greenway, which, in turn, will one day reach the Mississippi River Greenway, a major component of the River Ring. Connecting all of these greenways is expected to make the trail even more popular.
"Grant's Trail is very multi-use," says Kevin Keach, project and operations manager for Trailnet. "You'll see everything from cyclists to bladers to walkers and baby carriages; the whole gamut of users. Even people who were not for the trail originally, including some who worried that it would bring crime, now call it 'their trail.'"
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