There is no doubt we all need a getaway after this past spring. Traveling is still tricky, but you do not always have to go far to feel refreshed. A quick excursion can do a quarantined-weary soul good, and perhaps one of the best places to find that reprieve in Lee’s Summit is on the Rock Island Trail.
The trail has been open for a year now and cuts through the heart of Lee’s Summit, currently stretching for 6.5 miles on the old Rock Island railroad line from Brickyard Road in Kansas City to Jefferson Street in Lee’s Summit. It is most accessible from the Hartman Park trailhead off Pryor Road, and there is another trailhead off 98th Street.
Despite being located entirely in an urban area, when exploring the trail one (almost) feels as if they have completely left the city for a rural setting.
A winding river provides beautiful sights and endless opportunities for kids to explore and get muddy. The long tunnel on the northern end of the trail is not only picturesque, it also helps one imagine what the area must have been like when the railroad was there. After all, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad maintained the corridor from 1904 to 1981.
Today, the woods around the trail hide the city sights from view and provide a great habitat for the birds that produce the soundtrack for the area. Many homeowners whose property backs up the trail have built pathways from their backyards to the trail for easy access.
Every now and then one is jolted back into the city as the trail crosses Ward Road and Longview Road, takes a bridge over Third Street and passes under an I-470 bridge. Yet those streets and highways quickly pass from view, and a walker or rider can find themselves taking in the sights once again.
The trail is expanding soon, and by early next year it will continue north for another 7.1 miles to the Truman Sports Complex. This will result in a 13.5-mile trail. Additionally, it will connect with the Little Blue Trace Trail, thus making an expansive trail system in Jackson County.
Brent Hugh, executive director with the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, said he did not realize there was such a scenic area in this part of the city until he began exploring the area. He also said if one is trying to bike from Lee’s Summit to the stadiums or visa versa, there was previously no good route for a biker to take. Additionally, the trail provides the possibility of one biking from Lee’s Summit to the stadiums and then using public transportation to further access the rest of Kansas City.
That might be impressive, but the plans and hope for the trail do not end there. The long-term goal for the trail is for it to continue southeast from Lee’s Summit through Greenwood and into Pleasant Hill, which will allow it to connect with the Rock Island spur of the Katy Trail. This will require another eight miles of trail, and those plans are all still in the conceptual stages and could take several years to complete. Yet when the trail is finally completed, there will be a trail system based on old railroad lines that will stretch uninterrupted from Kansas City all the way across the state to the St. Louis area.
While we are all figuring out our “new normal,” frequenting the Rock Island Trail and enjoying local scenery can be a refreshing part of life going forward for Lee’s Summit residents.