The Western Sky Trail is a rails-to-trails conversion project that will connect Chanute and Fredonia on the former right-of-way of the South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad, over a distance of about 19 miles.
The Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy currently owns the railbanked corridor, and is seeking individuals in Neosho and Wilson counties to help turn this raw route into a finished trail.
Sunflower asked me to check out the state of the trail, particularly the location where the Flanagan South Pipeline crosses the trail right-of-way. The pipeline is being built from Illinois to Oklahoma, and cuts across the southeast corner of Kansas. Sunflower is concerned about damage to the trail corridor, and from what I found, that concern is justified.
I drove to Chanute, parked in town, and rode my bike westward, following the Trans-America Bicycle Trail route, which is 200th Road. Sunflower wasn’t exactly sure where the pipeline crossed the trail, so I figured I’d just head west until I came to construction, then find the trail from there.
That worked out fine. I located the construction, and then the trail, without too much difficulty. Here are some photos from the excursion:
The trail right-of-way crosses 200th Road about 1 mile west of US-169 highway. The old railroad tracks are still in place east of this point, but have been removed to the west. This photo is looking west at the intersection of 200th Road and the Western Sky Trail corridor. The old track crosses the road at an angle, so this crossing will actually be a lot safer once those tracks are pulled up.
Just west of the 200th Road crossing, there are some bales blocking the trail, the trail is overgrown, and brush is beginning to encroach. It will need a bit of work…
The pipeline intersects 200th Road just west of Anderson Road, right on the border between Neosho County and Wilson County. The trail is located about 1/2 mile south of 200th Road. This photo was taken at the intersection of the trail and Anderson Road, looking west. There’s a barbed-wire gate blocking the trail entrance, but I just lifted the bike over the gate, since I had permission, and the trail looked reasonably rideable.
And the trail turned out to be rideable indeed, even on my skinny-tired road bike. The trail surface was somewhat soft and loose, but the rocks weren’t too big, and the weeds and brush hadn’t taken over yet. It didn’t look like it would take an extraordinary amount of work to get this section of the trail ready!
Here is the pipeline crossing, abut 1/3 mile west of Anderson Road, looking west from the trail. As you can see, the right-of-way has been rather torn up.
This is the cut that the pipeline has made through the trail corridor. In this photo, I’m looking north, in-line with the pipeline, and the trail is running east/west, perpendicular to the pipeline.
Presumably, the pipeline has already been buried, and the pipeline construction workers are in the process of cleaning up. If that’s the case, then it appears that they intend to leave the cut in place, interrupting the trail right-of-way. I expect that Sunflower will have something to say about that, and hopefully will be able to ensure that the trail corridor is restored to its previous condition.
After checking out the pipeline crossing, I rode back to Anderson Road. This photo is looking east, with a gate blocking the trail. It appeared that ATVs had bypassed the gate and been driven on the trail. So there’s a trespassing problem, though they don’t appear to have done any damage. Again, this portion of the trail looks pretty solid — just needs clearing, some fresh rock, and compacting, and it’ll be ready to ride!
I only saw a small portion of the trail, so I don’t know how it looks further to the west. Perhaps I’ll be able to check it out in more detail this summer sometime.
In the meantime, Sunflower is actively seeking volunteers in Chanute, Fredonia, or anywhere along or near the trail route. If you can help, please contact Clark Coan with the Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy, 785-842-3458.
And incidentally, the Western Sky Trail is a critical link in the burgeoning Kansas rail-trail network. It is envisioned to be part of a chain of trails that will connect Kansas City to Wichita (among many other places). Many of the pieces are already in place — the Flint Hills Nature Trail, the Prairie Spirit Trail, the Southwind Rail Trail, the Redbud Trail:
That image is a portion of the statewide rail trails map included in the 2013 Kansas Statewide Rail-to-Trails Plan. Follow that link for more details about this exciting plan that is slowly but surely coming together.