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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe recent legal move by the Ameren Corporation to “abandon” a 145-mile stretch of rail line opens the way for a second cross-Missouri hiking and biking trail to be created. There’s a long way to go, but this is exciting news for anyone who loves the outdoors, especially in the Midwest.

The line, which was once part of the Rock Island Line (which as we all know, is a mighty good road), skirts the northern edge of the Ozarks, from Windsor southwest of Sedalia to Beaufort in western Franklin County. The Katy Trail also goes through Windsor, so the two trails would connect there.

I spent a while with my topographical maps today checking out the route of the rail line. It runs through some very wild country, nothing with special grandeur, but oh my goodness some of the vistas along this trail will be outstanding! There are crossings over the Osage River (above) and the Gasconade, and the line follows the Osage for several miles. These sections in themselves would be enough to make me celebrate. But I also think of the wild sections between so many quiet Ozark villages – Gerald, Rosebud, Owensville, Bland, Belle, Freeburg, Meta, Eugene, Eldon, Versailles, Cole Camp, Ionia – even the names are like a roll call of fascination. I don’t know this part of the country well, hardly at all really, but am excited to learn it.

Would this trail ever develop into the kind of serial B&B-and-winery trail that the Katy has become? I doubt it. It’s more remote, farther from urban centers, and the countryside is less hospitable to the casual visitor. But I think it will develop a character of its own, one that will appeal to a different sort of traveler, and will become a valued destination for people wanting to discover an overlooked part of the Ozarks.

Old rail map Rock Island