Location: FortScott

Riding The Gunn Park Trails

Gunn Park Trails LogoI recently took a little trip to Fort Scott, Kansas to visit the Gunn Park Trails, one of the newest mountain bike trail systems in the state.

The trails have been created by volunteers in Gunn Park, a historic city park in Fort Scott.

There are approximately 4.1 miles of trail, with plans to develop more. The trailmasters describe it as “mostly non-technical trails with relatively easy climbs and descents”, and I found that to be mostly true. There are a few rocks and roots, but I could handle them (even though I’m not a very confident mountain biker) while riding a fully-loaded touring bike. There were a few deliberate skill challenges, but they could be walked or bypassed easily enough.

Here are some photos that should help to give you a feel for the trails:

This sign for the Gunn Park Trails is located right at the entrance to Gunn Park, with the trail entry to the right. It lays out the rules, and gives a contact number. You can also grab a trail map, which is handy since there are currently no wayfinding signs on the trails themselves (though they are apparently planned).

Here’s a reprint of the trail map, showing the various trail sections available to be ridden. I only had time to ride the north trails, and did not get a chance to ride the entire 4.1 miles.

This section of the Gunn Park Trails winds among trees on a ridge above the Marmaton River. There are a few roots and a few rocks, but the surface is mostly smooth, fast, and flows very well.

There are a few plank bridges on the Gunn Park Trails. Easily ridden (though may be slippery if wet!).

The north end of the Gunn Park Trails terminate at a pumping station/low-water dam on the Marmaton River. I visited during a drought, and imagine the flow over the dam would be a very impressive sight after a good rain.

The access road leading to the low-water dam features a beautiful old stone wall, which made for a nice photogenic spot for a bicycle glamour shot.

And yes, I rode a fully-loaded touring bike on these mountain bike trails!

The section of the trail along the Marmaton River is quite lovely. Though be careful of this pinch point — I lost control here and nearly ended up in the river!

There are some huge old cottonwood trees along the Marmaton River on the Gunn Park Trails.

In all, I rode about half of the trail, and enjoyed it immensely. I think this is one of the better trails I’ve ridden in Kansas.

I love a trail with smooth tread and good flow, and that’s exactly what I found here. The trees and the river, as well as the stunning beauty of Gunn Park itself (a lot of great stonework from the 1930’s), make this a great place to visit in southeastern Kansas.

Gunn Park also offers camping at a very reasonable cost, whether you’re tenting it, or “camping” in an RV.

One interesting aspect of these trails is the close cooperation between the trail-builders and the city. When Fort Scott officials were originally approached about allowing these trails to be created, they were reluctant, both to risk damage to the park, and to risk liability for the city.

Indeed, when the trails first opened, in 2011, the city of Fort Scott required that each rider sign a waiver absolving the city of any liability in case of injury while on the trails. Naturally, this tended to keep people away — who wants to go through a bunch of paperwork just to ride a trail?

Thankfully, the city has since relaxed its attitude. There are signs at the entrances to the trail that remind users that “Trail riding is inherently dangerous, riders do so at their own risk”.

In other words, don’t go suing the city if you take a tumble and break yourself or your equipment … which is basically the same “assumption of risk” that you take on every other trail, anywhere. According to BicycleLaw.com: “‘assumption of risk’ is a legal doctrine holding that sports participants assume the inherent risks of their sport. This means that if an athlete is injured during a sporting event, and the injury results from an ‘inherent risk’ of the sport, the athlete cannot sue for ordinary negligence.”

Fort Scott now seems to be embracing the trails. When I spoke to the people at the Fort Scott Visitor’s Center, they were quick to tell me about the Gunn Park Trails, and the planned Riverfront Park & Trails

Note: Fort Scott does have a very silly and antiquated bicycle registration law on their books, but that only applies if you’re riding on Fort Scott streets — you don’t need to register to ride the trails!

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

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