The Rails-to-Trails Movement
The Rails-to-Trails movement and open space preservation
began in the early 1970s when the City adopted a comprehensive
greenway plan. This plan inventoried all available
open spaces, concentrating on undeveloped watersheds.
The Hinkson and Flat Branch Creeks contained the
right-of-way (ROW) of the 8.5 mile Missouri-Kansas-Texas
(MKT) railroad line from Columbia to McBaine.
In 1977, MKT railroad abandoned the right of way. The
following year, Columbia Parks and Recreation Department
applied for and received a grant for $240,000 from
the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act
from the United States Department of Interior. The
estimated cost to purchase and develop the land was
$275,000. Columbia was one of the first 10 pilot projects
in the US.
Between 1979 and 1982, the City agreed to purchase
the quit-claim deed from the railroad for $17,725
but the railroad only owned about 25% of the right
of way. So, the City began the arduous task of buying
the remaining right of way from individual landowners.
This process was much more time consuming and expensive
than planned. Several landowners were opposed to
the project and filed suit to stop it.
The grant was renegotiated to include only the
4.3 mile section from Stewart Road to Scott's Boulevard.
The trail was developed in three phases:
The first phase, which opened in 1982, was the 3.3
mile section from Stadium Boulevard to Scott's Boulevard.
The Stadium Boulevard site was a former City sewage
treatment plant. The plant was converted to a trailhead
park and site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The plant's control building was converted into an
interpretive center managed by the Audubon Society
and restrooms. In the first mile from Stadium towards
Forum Boulevard, a 20-station exercise/fitness course
was installed. This was funded by the Wells Fargo Gamefield
The second phase, which opened in 1983, was the 1.03
mile section from Stadium to Stewart and Providence
Road. This section was able to be opened due to the
cooperative agreement between the City and the Missouri
Highway and Transportation Commission. When Route 740
(Stadium) was renovated and widened, a walkway was
constructed under Stadium Boulevard which provided
Due to the potential legal problems concerning
landowner rights, the trail was not officially dedicated
until October 13, 1985.
Providence Road to the intersection of Fourth and Cherry
Streets, opened in 1991. This section, known as the
Downtown section of the trail, is constructed entirely
of concrete. The Fourth and Cherry Street site is the
home of the downtown Flat Branch Park. The 1/4 acre
trailhead park features the Flat Branch Creek that
borders the property, as well as a gazebo, benches
and tables, sidewalks, landscaping, historic markers,
and greenspace. The groundbreaking ceremony took place
May 6, 2000. Construction was completed in November
2001, and the dedication ceremony was on November 15,
Phases I and II, Stewart Road to Scott's Boulevard,
acquisition and development: $482,000 (approximately
70% funded by grants).
Phase III, Providence Road to 4th & Cherry
Buffer Land Along the MKT Trail
Developers, recognizing the economic benefits of the
MKT Trail began to develop home and commercial sites
immediately adjacent to the MKT Trail. Since the MKT
Trail is a linear 100-ft wide trail, development could
literally be 50 feet from the center of the trail and
be legal. Friends of the MKT Trail, a nonprofit organization,
recognized the need to preserve land next to the trail,
lobbied and gained support from the City to begin acquisition
of buffer land.
Financing for this land acquisition was made possible
by passage of a 1/4-cent sales tax in 1991. Approximately
350 acres have been acquired. Buffer land acquisition
and development costs (Forum Nature Trail $50,000
and Forum parking lot enlargement $50,000) are approximately
Forum Nature Area opened in fall 1996. This 2.0
mile trail was developed as part of buffer land acquisition
project. It is for pedestrian traffic only. No cyclists
See also - Capital Improvement Projects.