For many years, farmers and agricultural landholders were among the most fervent opponents of converting unused rail corridors into public trails in Kansas. A number of farmers argued that the land they once sold to the railroads should be returned to them, fearing that opening the corridor to bikers and walkers would expose them to vandalism and crime, and lawsuits should a trail user be injured.
Despite the failure of these concerns to materialize, agricultural opposition to rail-trails persists, with groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation sponsoring legal opposition to rail-trail conversions.
But now it appears a new generation of farmers is developing a fresh appreciation of what rail-trails can bring to their community.
In Marysville, Kan., near the Nebraska border, members of the local high school's Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter are throwing their support behind the Blue River Rail Trail, building benches, installing a new sign and bulletin board kiosk at the trailhead, and doing much-needed bridge repair work.
According to the Marysville Advocate, community volunteers have also spent many hours putting in posts, signage and gates, in addition to trail construction and bridge rail re-building projects.
"I'm thrilled at what Marysville's doing," Ross Greathouse, vice president and founder of the Nebraska Trails Foundation, told the Advocate. "We have some really great things in our area of the country. It takes a lot of patience to stay with it."
The Blue River Rail Trail currently stretches about 13 miles from Marysville to the Nebraska border. But the Marysville trails community is ambitious. Inspired by the trail's great popularity among both locals and visitors, it plans to extend the trail another 60 miles north to the Nebraska capital in Lincoln.
The Blue River Rail Trail is also seen as a key section of the Quad State Trail Project (right), a proposed system of more than 700 miles of trails linking Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas; more than 450 miles of this network already exist.
Given the terrific support of groups like Kansas' young farmers, few would bet against this energetic trails community making good on their vision of such a valuable public asset.