the 'Nozarks' trail
Hikers, bikers and horseback riders
in north Missouri
| Doug Long rides a section of trail in Crowder State Park near
Trenton. Long is the catalyst behind the Green Hills Trail Association
and a hard-core mountain bike racer.
There are two common
misconceptions about north Missouri. The first is that it’s flat.
The second is that there are no rocks. Those misconceptions are quickly
swept away for anyone who has ever attempted to follow Doug Long on
a trail at Crowder State Park.
Doug, best known
to Chillicothe residents as the former Hornet wrestling coach and middle
school assistant principal, is a terror on a mountain bike. “I
have a bad gene,” he readily admits after guiding his battered mountain
bike up and down miles of trails, oblivious to the steep, gnarly terrain.
bad gene has kept Doug at the helm of a small but dedicated group of volunteers
called the Green Hills Trail Association. The group is slowly turning north
Missouri into a destination for mountain bikers, trail runners, equestrians
and hikers who previously thought south was the only way to go.
In fact, Doug
coined a term for the Green Hills Region: “The Nozarks.” These
pockets of steep, heavily forested hillsides are more Ozark hills and hollers
than north Missouri farmland.
It was Tim Riekena,
a member of the group and a teacher at Chillicothe Middle School, who
really started the effort to put north Missouri’s trails on
the map. An avid outdoorsman, he wrote a series of trail columns for
the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, focusing on a radius 20 to 30
miles around Chillicothe.
“I was trying
to find what was close, places where I could ride and hike,” he
says. “In most books, 80 percent of what they covered was south
of the Missouri River in the Ozarks. While the Ozarks are beautiful,
they are just too far away.”
of the Green Hills Trail Association include (from left) Long,
Tim Riekena and Mark Jenkins.
In time, readers
started encouraging Tim to write a book. He expanded his coverage to
anywhere north of the Missouri River and was amazed at what he found.
Little-known trails crisscross the northern half of Missouri in state
parks, city parks, Corps of Engineers land and remote Conservation
Department wildlife areas.
Tim devoted his summer
vacations to documenting the north-Missouri trails. Eventually, he
featured 84 trails in a book called “North Missouri Mountain
Biking, Hiking and GPS Trail Guide.”
“I went to
print discovering more trails,” he says. “It was
definitely a grassroots effort to get north Missouri in front
The book guides outdoor
enthusiasts from the Monkey Mountains on the western border all the
way to the new Jones Confluence State Park, where the Missouri and
Mississippi rivers meet. It includes waypoints that owners of GPS units
can use to take them directly to trailheads and attractions like waterfalls.
hard-core mountain bikers like Long were interested in improving
the selection of trails closer to home. Crowder State Park, dubbed “the
gem of north Missouri” in Riekena’s book, already had
a nice network of trails. But these trails were built years ago and
were not designed for mountain bikes. They needed work to prevent
International Mountain Biking Association) will tell you that if you
build trails right, all groups will be able to use them,” says
That was the goal
when Long approached Terry Truttmann, resource forester for the Missouri
Department of Conservation, about the possibility of building a new
trail at the southern half of Poosey Conservation Area west of Chillicothe.
The northern part of the area already had 20 miles of multi-use trails
used by horseback riders.
|Doug Long checks
his mountain bike prior to a ride on one of north Missouri's many
“He was way
ahead of the curve,” Long
says of the land-use manager. “He
recognized the need for separate trails to avoid conflicts
(between horses and bikers).” Eventually, Long and the fledgling
Green Hills Trail Association members carved a mile of trail into
the woods around Indian Lake, opening the area to hikers and bikers
but also hunters and anglers.
The trail group also
found a kindred spirit in Paul Anders, manager of Crowder State Park.
maintenance efforts take a burden off park personnel.
his first trail-building efforts at Crowder and Poosey left much
to be desired.
He says, “What you tend to do, you see a deer path. That’s
easy, it’s already there. Now I’ve raced and ridden trails
all over the United States. I’ve had the opportunity to observe
and see well-built trails and I’ve seen poor-built trails. Every
mistake you can make, I’ve
made that mistake.”
branches from above a trail.
Once the group proved
it would maintain the trail, Truttmann let them
add more miles. Long put his growing trail-building
skills to work and designed sections of trail
that can be easily maintained and would appeal to a
broad range of runners, hikers and bikers.
Today the trail, called the Green Hills Trail
or Indian Creek Lake Trail, is gaining fame,
especially with mountain bikers. Comments on
mountain bike Web sites show the trail is bringing
cyclists from as far away as Joplin to test their
mettle on the challenging terrain. Riders from
Nebraska and Iowa have also discovered the trail,
Bringing people to
north Missouri was the goal all along, both Long and Riekena say. They
envision riders and hikers coming to north Missouri and camping at
Crowder or enjoying the more comfortable motels in Chillicothe or Trenton.
can hit the trail at Crowder one day, head to Poosey the next day
and then go east to Kirksville, where Thousand Hills State Park offers
34 miles of riding on an out-and-back trail.
“I call that
the trilogy,” Long says.
dressed in his cycling garb, clears debris from the trail during
The Green Hills group
also enjoys riding on the area’s roads. Their efforts
led to signs along scenic routes that
encourage drivers to “Share the Road.” They
hold regular Monday night rides for all
Two cycling events
are bringing both road riders and mountain bikers to the area. In
the spring, the group’s “Crank and Cruise” event caters
to the off-road crowd. In the fall,
the Green Hills Tour takes cyclists from Crowder to Jamesport to Poosey and
back to Crowder on gravel roads.
These events — along
with constant prodding by Long — have brought
fresh blood into the group. “I’d
like to see us get more volunteers,” Long
says. “What I’m trying
to find is that person who’s
looking for something to do. They
have to be mountain bikers. If it’s
a family that likes to hike together,
go adopt a part of the trail.”
says cycling can be an enjoyable
sport. “It promotes an active
lifestyle. I can go out and ride
my bike two or three hours, and
got a big smile on my face.
Missouri has some of the most beautiful
scenery. For a long time, I thought
maybe we shouldn’t share
it. But when we started having
the Crowder events, that kind of
took care of itself.”
For more information
on the Green Hills Trail Association, call (660) 646-0322, log on to
send e-mail to email@example.com. Tim Riekena’s book
sells for $18 and is available from the author at 2512 Doniphan St.,
Chillicothe, MO 64601.