St. Charles County is prime cycling spot
By Tim Bryant
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH =
A year from now, St. Charles County should have a 50 percent increase in its miles of mountain-biking trails, solidifying its lead as the region's prime area for off-road cyclists.
John Donjoian, founder of Gateway Off-Road Cycling, is pleased by the expansion. He said mountain bikers from throughout the Midwest are discovering the trails that lace many of St. Charles County's wooded hillsides.
"We have a great reputation going right now," said Donjoian, whose group designed and, with volunteer labor, built many of the twisting trails situated in St. Charles County parks.
"The new trails are up to the most current standards."
Enthusiasts of other forms of biking also have reasons to look forward to 2006. Several municipalities in St. Charles County plan to expand their paved trail systems, which are popular with recreational cyclists.
Some cooperative projects are in the works. For example, St. Peters and St. Charles are studying a link that will eventually allow bikers to ride between Creve Coeur Lake Park, in St. Louis County, and Lakeside 370, a business park and recreational development planned in northern St. Peters. Plans also are under way to link municipal and St. Charles County trails to networks being developed by the Great Rivers Greenway District and to the Katy Trail, the 225-mile, cross-state path that is considered among the nation's premier rails-to-trail conversion.
"We've got all these little pieces, and we're linking them together," said Jim Phillips, park maintenance and construction superintendent for the city of St. Charles. "It's really going to give a regional aspect to all our trails."
Madison County, which has acquired more than 100 miles of abandoned rail lines for conversion to trails, has a big St. Louis-area lead in trail mileage for recreational bikers. But because of its abundance of hills and woods, St. Charles County is experiencing most of the region's growth in development of unpaved "single track" trails prized by mountain bikers.
Matson Hill, a St. Charles County park near Defiance, has nearly three miles of single track trail. Quail Ridge Park, near Wentzville, has five miles of mountain bike trails that attract some of the most avid off-road cyclists.
Opened last year, Klondike Park is the area's biggest lure for mountain bikers. Gateway Off-Road Cycling volunteers plotted out and built the seven miles of trails within the park's woods and hills overlooking the Missouri River.
The group, which has about 200 members, has helped develop about 25 miles of single track trails, including nine miles at the Missouri Department of Conservation's Weldon Spring area.
Donjoian, 38, of St. Charles, and a program manager at Boeing Co., said Gateway volunteers strive to design and build "sustainable" trails that require little maintenance.
"We benefit, obviously, because we're mountain bikers and we love to ride our bikes on trails," he said.
Nick Donze, assistant director of St. Charles County parks, said surveys nationwide show that walking and biking trails "are always in the top two or three" features people want in parks.
"In our setting, it's a chance for people to get out of the rat race a bit and wind down," he said.
Among St. Charles County cities, St. Peters has the most highly developed trail system. A substantial portion of its 10 miles of paved trails link parks or run near wooded creek banks.
By spring, the city expects to complete repairs to the heavily used City Centre Trail from its western end to Boone Hills Drive. Jeff Hutsler, the city's parks director, said the City Centre Trail "is the bread and butter of our trail system."
As part of a five-year maintenance plan, the city next year will repave two additional trails: Carrington, between Willott Road and the bridge leading to the Brookmount Trail, and Dardenne, between Dew Court and Sunny View Drive.
In the works are two expansion projects. Hutsler expects a short extension of the Laurel Trail to McClay Road to be built this year. Filling in the 200-yard gap will allow users of St. Peters' trail system to reach the developing Page Avenue extension trail, which connects to the Katy Trail and runs to Creve Coeur Lake.
Design work is under way on a larger trail expansion project at the other end of St. Peters. City officials plan to extend the City Centre Trail to Spencer Road, where it would turn north, cross Interstate 70 and circle the lake under construction at the Lakeside 370 Business Park project.
Hutsler is unsure of a completion date. Once open, the Lakeside 370 trail would offer cyclists a nine-mile ride from the Katy Trail, he said.
St. Charles has hiking and biking trails in 11 of its 19 parks. Phillips said the city plans to build trails to link some parks and schools. It also is considering an ambitious program to develop trails on existing roadways and on various forms of dedicated rights of way. Given a high priority is a plan to build off-street "greenway" trails, including one along Boschertown Road to link Blanchette and Fox Hill parks, the city's sports complex and New Town.
Likely this year are a trail from Fountain Lakes Park to the city's soccer complex, a short trail along Tamarack Drive, near Fox Hill Park, and a trail in conjunction with the Fifth Street extension project. In addition, the city might next year acquire a former railbed that would provide a half-mile connection between the Fifth Street and Katy trails.
Officials are considering eventual development of an "outer loop" network of trails that would circle the city and connect to the Katy Trail and additional trails in St. Charles County.
The Great Rivers district is working to build what it calls The River Ring, a network of greenways, parks and trails that would eventually encircle the St. Louis area. Two greenways are planned for St. Charles County.
Scheduled for completion next year is a master plan for the Dardenne Greenway, said Todd Antoine, the district's senior planner. To be built this year is more than a mile of Dardenne Greenway in BaratHaven, a mixed-use development along Dardenne Creek.
Antoine said Great Rivers is working with the Missouri Department of Transportation to run the greenway under the Highway 40 bridge over the creek to reach the Busch Wildlife area. The city of O'Fallon, Mo., which plans to expand its bike-trail system, also is part of the BaratHaven trail project.
"There is a lot of coordination," Antoine said. "People are starting to talk together. A lot of the municipalities have caught on to the idea . . . of a connected (trail) system. It's not just from neighborhood to neighborhood but community to community."
He added: "Stay tuned. I think you're going to see an awful lot coming up."
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