Jammin’ on the Katy Trail: the Pedaler’s Jamboree

Words and photos by Robert Annis 

Music and bikes are two of my biggest passions, so when I learned about a bike and music festival just five hours away, I needed to go.

For well over a decade, riders have flocked to the Pedaler’s Jamboree along the Katy Trail in Missouri. Starting in beautiful Columbia, Missouri, thousands of riders pedal 30 miles to Boonville, stopping to check out the stages sprinkled along the route and have a beer or three.

There are somewhat similar festivals out there, but the music is typically an afterthought, competent cover bands who’ll be playing a wedding or a neighborhood dive bar the following weekend. At the Pedaler’s Jamboree, the music is as much of an attraction as the riding. Even better, two bands I absolutely love – Split Lip Rayfield and headliners Ha Ha Tonka – were playing.

Starting at Columbia’s Flat Branch Park, I was struck by how many different types of bikes and riders I saw. There were quite a few serious touring cyclists straddling fully loaded Long Haul Truckers, but many more weekend warriors on hybrids and folks who just pulled their ancient Huffy off the garage wall for their annual bike ride. Probably less than half we wearing helmets, but at least one ingenious rider improvised with a huge pasta pot strapped to his head.

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I can admittedly take riding a little too seriously at times, but that’s almost impossible during this trip. The sheer number of riders prevents people from cranking the pace too much, forcing me to slow down even more than usual and actually enjoy the entire experience. More importantly, every time my Garmin registered a speed above the low teens, I could feel my wife Dee’s eyes boring holes in my back with irritation.

The Katy Trail itself was great. My 28mm Clement Strada LGG’s rolled easily over the crushed limestone surface as we pedaled through oak- and walnut-filled forests, over iron bridges and into dark tunnels, occasionally sandwiched between jagged cliffs and the muddy Missouri River. On one wide-open section of the trail, we saw a massive bald eagle perched on a fence post, scanning the fields for a mouse. I mentally made a note to come back soon to ride the entire 237-mile length of the trail.

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While I love the sound of nature while riding, it’s great to be pedaling along and hear the chatter of birds accompanied by a lone accordionist busking along the trail. About a half-mile before the first stage, we could barely make out the faint echo of guitars. We caught the final few songs of Delta Sol Revival, but we finished our morning Logboat IPAs before the start of Molly Gene One Whoaman Band’s set and decided to move on. Set times were spread out among stages and miles of trail, so we had to make some hard choices.

Things were going almost too perfectly, which makes for a boring article. Luckily the skies opened up soon after we reached the second-to-last stop, and we were forced to take shelter underneath the sound-booth canopy. As the thunder and lightning rolled through, I opened up my flask of bourbon to ensure that we stayed warm, at least from the inside out.

When the weather cleared after an hour or so and energetic newgrass band Kay Brothers finally took the stage, it was obvious why so many people braved the rain to hear them play. Despite the mud, riders danced and shimmied in front of the stage. After a short break, Split Lip Rayfield proved that the lightning earlier wasn’t the most electrifying moment of the day, playing a set of fast and hard-hitting bluegrass. Propelled by Jeff Eaton’s single-string gas-tank bass, the trio ran through more than a dozen favorites, punctuated by the I’ll Be Around.

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Afterward, it was a short few miles to the campsite at Kemper Park. Thankfully we didn’t have to bring much in the way of gear. Padre’s Cycle Inn provided us with a tent, air mattress and camp chairs, so we could watch the bands in slouched comfort. GGOOLLD and That 1 Guy put on fun, capable sets, even if they weren’t my typical cup of tea. As expected, Ha Ha Tonka put on a great show, and even they seemed amused by the mishmash of audience members, with bass player Luke Long modeling a Team Numb Nuts cycling cap for several songs.

The next morning, Dee and I geared up and headed back down to Columbia. We were mildly bemused by the number of people loading bikes in the back of pickup trucks, claiming there was no way they could ever do 30 miles on a bike two days in a row. For as many people attended the Jamboree, both the trail and the music stops seemed virtually empty. Even so, we took our time ambling back to Columbia, savoring the experience.

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Upset you missed the fun? Well, you have a few different options this year. The Pedaler’s Jamboree will be doing a second event in Iowa this August along the Chichaqua Valley Trail. More than 10 bands will be scattered along the 22-mile route.

If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, the Velorama Music Festival coincides with the Colorado Classic stage race Aug.11-13. Ride the same roads as the pros in the morning and afternoon, then enjoy music from Wilco, the New Pornographers, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Old 97’s at night.

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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 2017 Doppelt Fund Grants fund six different trail projects

Last week, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) announced the recipients of its 2017 Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund grants, a fund to support small, regional projects that are vital to trail systems but often fall through the cracks of traditional funding streams. In total, RTC received $5 million in application requests for the 2017 grant cycle, a number that has increased by nearly $1 million in the past year, demonstrating the growing demand for trail funding in communities nationwide.

“Every week, I hear from dozens of organizations that manage trails—all with common challenges when it comes to funding small projects that address specific maintenance or trail development needs,” said Eli Griffen, RTC’s manager of trail development resources and the manager of the Doppelt Fund grant program. “This year’s grants offer critical investment in projects that will close important gaps in trail systems, measure the economic impact of trails and support specific maintenance needs.”

Photo: Rob Annis

Photo: Rob Annis

The 2017 Doppelt Fund grants were awarded in support of six projects, totaling $102,500.

Recipients include:

  • The City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department (Colorado) – $35,000 to complete Phase 1 of the Legacy Loop, a comprehensive multi-use trail project that will improve connectivity and accessibility for over 120,000 families living within two miles of the project in Colorado Springs.
  • Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust (Oregon) – $30,000 to support analysis of the social-economic benefits associated with the 86-mile Salmonberry Trail.
  • Wyoming Pathways (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) – $20,000 to support the opening of the Greater Yellowstone Trail, a 180-mile pathway and rail-trail route that connects Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to West Yellowstone, Montana, via small towns in eastern Idaho.
  • National Road Heritage Corridor (Pennsylvania) – $7,500 for the construction of the Marion segment of the Sheepskin Trail, which will close an existing gap in the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s Parkersburg-to-Pittsburgh corridor.
  • Detroit Greenways Coalition (Michigan) – $5,000 to support the Inner Circle Greenway in Highland Park, the largest urban trail project in the state of Michigan.
  • Cowboy Trail West, Inc. (Nebraska) – $5,000 to support a 15-mile expansion of the Cowboy Trail from Gordon, Nebraska, to Rushville, Nebraska.
Photo by Rob Annis

Photo by Rob Annis

“We are lucky to have the capacity to invest in a handful of these projects through the Doppelt Fund, but the growing need far exceeds the funding available. These projects are vital to the health of local and regional trail systems,” said Jeff Doppelt, a philanthropist from Great Neck, New York.

Established in 2015, The Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund is a way to move forward critical projects that enhance health and transportation connectivity in their regions. A listing of all Doppelt Fund grant recipients can be found on RTC’s website.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with more than 160,000 members and supporters, is the nation’s largest trails organization dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines.

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How to Make a Rail Trail Successful

Words and photos by Robert Annis

When it comes to a relaxing bike ride, few options are better than a rail trail. Hundreds of the repurposed greenways have popped up over the last two decades, with many more in the planning phases.

But not all rail trails are created equal. Some things you might not notice right away, others you will – especially if it’s an amenity the trail is lacking. So what makes a rail-trail great?

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Connections to Other Trails, Towns, and Attractions

In Michigan, the Iron Belle Trail connects existing greenways into a nearly 800-mile semi-contiguous trail that stretches from Detroit to Ironwood State Park in the Upper Peninsula (although most of the UP section is currently highway shoulder, not trail). Scattered throughout are trail connectors, leading riders to different greenways, sights, and towns throughout the state.

“Most are going to pick a destination as a starting point for the day and do a 30-40 mile ride,” said Kristen Bennett, Iron Belle Trail Coordinator. “They (might prefer not) to come back the exact same way, so you need these arterial trails where the riders can (see different sights and) eventually loop back to where they came from.”

Indianapolis’ Monon Trail is the most heavily trafficked trail in the Hoosier state, as it bisects the northern part of the city and acts as a launching point for multiple other trails, each of which has their own unique character, thanks to quirks of geography. Looking for some peace and quiet? Both the Wapahani or Fall Creek trails are built primarily on floodplain, so there are few businesses and fewer people. Looking for more excitement? The Monon empties out onto the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, where options abound for concerts, nightlife, and more.

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A Defining Character

Many rail trails look to the past for their branding. The Monon Trail uses the old railroad logo, as well as repurposed or recreated infrastructure from when locomotives ruled the route.

“We have a couple of train stops that have been repurposed into a restaurant and an ice cream shop,” said Andre Denman, Indy Parks Trail Planner. “Many of the bridges along the route have that old-time railroad character.”

Destination trails should spell out the type of experience you should expect. The Nickel Plate Trail in north central Indiana promises riders an opportunity to experience the rural beauty of the Hoosier state, while the Monon Trail allows people to discover some of Indianapolis’ best entertainment options intersected by some pretty scenery.

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Community Buy-In

Mississippi’s Longleaf Trace might be a member of the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame, but it now seems like a relic from another time. While the pavement is pristine and services available on either ends of the trail, the 40-ish connecting miles is a bit of a tree-lined snooze. Going by the few signs along the trail, there’s only one potential food and supply stop located along the greenway’s middle 30 miles. With the exception of several miles out from its respective trailheads, it’s generally ignored by residents.

On the northern side of the state, the Tanglefoot Trail offers so much more. The trail rolls through several small towns, and while there aren’t a lot of microbreweries or coffee shops, it does offer the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten at the Algoma General Store. Riding the Longleaf, you learn nothing about the communities you ride through, but each of the towns along the Tanglefoot seem to have bought into the trail and the sense of civic pride is evident.

It was important that “people along the Tanglefoot embrace it, welcoming visitors and being helpful in meeting the needs of all users,” said Trail Manager Don Locke, adding that he’s received multiple compliments from trail users about how well the business and townspeople along the trail welcome visitors.

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Access to Food, Drink, Restrooms, and a Bike Shop

Coffee and beer are the preferred fuel for cyclists. Open a brewery or a coffee shop near a heavily trafficked trail, and it’s almost as good as printing money. Old Ox Brewing saw an opportunity on the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Rail Trail and took full advantage, adding racks, tools, and pumps for visiting cyclists. The gamble paid off, with riders accounting for 40 percent of their customers on weekends.

“From day one, we made sure we had signage on the trail, a clear view of the brewery from the trail and a nice path to our door,” said Old Ox President Chris Burns. “It’s actually easier to find Old Ox from the bike trail than it is from the road.”

But there’s an even more important amenity than a brewery needed on or near every destination trail, a bike shop. Rail trails often attract beginner cyclists who may not know how to fix their own flat, let alone a broken derailleur. Communities like Vicksburg, Mississippi, are in such need for professional wrenches, they’re offering massive incentives to attract prospective shop owners.

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Celebrate Rails to Trails Opening Day on April 8

This year marks the fifth annual Opening Day hosted by the Rails to Trails Conservancy. On Saturday, April 8, 2017, people across the nation will kick off the spring by hitting their favorite trail for a ride, run, walk or special event.

There are more than 120 special events taking place at trails nationwide. All events are listed on the Rails to Trails Conservancy website and include 5k races, group rides, and even a fist-bump record attempt!

If you take the pledge to get out on the trail on Opening Day, you are entered to win a giveaway. Prizes consist of Fuji bikes, helmets, and Rails to Trails swag. Tag @railstotrails on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and use the hashtag #RTCOpeningDay to share how you will enjoy your day on the trails!

Tag us @bicycletimes also and we’ll repost some of your ride adventures on our Instagram!

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Path Less Pedaled x Bicycle Times: Tanglefoot Trail

Ed. Note: Path Less Pedaled x Bicycle Times is a video series by Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled. Stay tuned to the Bicycle Times website for more of this regular collaborative content. 

On their second day in Mississippi, The Path Less Pedaled rides the Tanglefoot Trail, a 44-mile rail trail that meanders through small towns, farms, forests and wetlands. They also experience some local cuisine, such as chicken on a stick!

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