Inconsistent maintenance marred a beautiful trail
It is a shame that a trail through such a gorgeous, natural area is so inconsistently maintained. My husband and I rode from south of Bolivar (MM 31) north into Bolivar one day, and the second day rode from MM 31 south on the unpaved portion of the trail down to around MM 21.
The paved portion of the trail was average; some roots, but overall decent. The road detour around Hwy 13 in Bolivar is rather long and a bit confusing if you don't know the area due to inadequate signage, but we figured it out.
Parts of the unpaved section south of Bolivar were smoothly packed limestone and very easy to ride on our road bikes, which are equipped with wide tires (1.35"). However, a good mowing and branch trimming was needed as the grass and weeds were high, and occasionally the trail would almost disappear in the weeds. But this was tolerable compared to the conditions we encountered the farther south we got.
We had hoped to make it to Walnut Grove at MM 16, but ended up turning around early due to the gravel conditions, mostly from the Little Sac River bridge (MM 23) to MM 21 (and probably farther south). This section appeared to have been relatively recently re-graveled, and not well. The gravel was larger and deeper than ideal (up to 3" deep in some places), leading to fish-tailing and difficulties controlling our bikes. I would recommend this section for mountain bikes only. It was nice to see that some maintenance had been done on this section, but unfortunately, it was not done well; the gravel was not spread evenly or thinly enough, making it somewhat hazardous and not fun to ride.
The bridge conditions were also inconsistent. Some appeared in dire need of maintenance. One wooden bridge had a large hole where a plank was missing, a very hazardous situation.
With more consistent and careful maintenance, this rail-trail could be the gem it should be, but it was a disappointing trail for us, especially compared to numerous other rail-trails we have ridden across the US.
Bolivar South: Hot Dry Weather – But Interesting & Fun
I did this trail mid-July following several weeks of no-rain hot weather. The trail showed signs of drought, but it was still interesting and fun to ride. I started at the trailhead in Bolivar, and rode south to near Willard and back. I didn’t go into Springfield because I had a long drive back home afterwards.
The Bolivar trailhead is well-equipped. It has paved parking, a new brick building having a large covered picnic area and clean restrooms (open from 8-am to 3-pm) plus information bulletin boards and service outlets nearby.
From there, the trail is paved southward to within ½-mile north of busy Hwy-13. I missed the westward detour sign at Aldrich Road before arriving there. This detour gives riders a fairly short safe route across Hwy-13 and back to the trail on the paved roads. After missing that detour, I plowed straight ahead southward on a gravelly unfinished ½-mile section to 13.
Once there, the medians between the highway and its service roads are fairly deep grassy ditches with bike-hewn pathways through them. Walking/running your bike across them seems the safest way. Once on the south side of 13, the trail is paved for another mile or two south where it becomes limestone chat near the La Petite Prairie. This prairie was mostly green tallgrass for lack of rain.
Most of the trail’s surface is fine limestone with only a few gravelly spots where washouts and other wear have occurred. It’s smooth and easy to ride. Its dual track narrows and widens depending on the density of the green well-treed corridor itself. Some of the trail’s 16 bridges were lengthy and tall. Most had wood-plank surfaces. But others had thick metal plates, probably from original railroad stuff with the rails removed. The bridge over the Little-Sac-River had a concrete surface. I saw ducks and a Great Blue Heron there.
Overall, I saw much wildlife along this trail despite the dryness: deer, fox, gobs of bunnies and squirrels, chipmunks, skinks, birds, insects, and butterflies. The white mules (in one field) and the varied barn structures were interesting too.
The trailheads are simple with sizeable parking lots. The one in Wishart has a small roofed bench shelter plus a chemical toilet. This shelter was installed by the Polk County Bike Club as were others along the trail no doubt. A half-block west of it, a closed mechanic’s shop has an open-to-the-public pop-machine out front. I got a 20-oz cola there on my return trip for $1.25. It also contained cold bottled water.
Outside of that, any real services are in the towns near the trailheads; e.g., at Walnut Grove (1-mile west of it to a market) and at Willard (across the street to several outlets). Also, 2-miles north of Willard, a Bulleye Service Station w/convenience store and a separate café are adjacent to the trail just across two-lane Rt-123.
So, air-conditioning, restrooms, food, and water exist near the trail and most of its trailheads. This 35-mile trail is worth doing more than once
From Springfield to Bolivar
My wife and I rode the complete trail on Thursday, 06/03/10. I rode an old Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike while my wife rode her new Scott Sportster P3 Hybrid. This was our first trip on the FH. We left at 8:00 A.M. and arrived at the Bolivar trail head at 1:00 P.M. We took our time, stopping a lot and had our lunch on the trail. We brought all of our water and food with us.
For those who have never rode the trail here it is in a nutshell. Starting in Springfield there is about a mile to a mile and a half of gravel before it turns to pavement. You will stay on pavement all the way to Willard until you reach the intersection of 160 and 123. Say goodbye to pavement until you are almost to Bolivar. You stay on a relatively flat gravel section until you reach Walnut Grove. After Walnut Grove the trail really gets fun. From approx. mile marker 17 to the Sac River bridge you are on a downhill stretch. Keep in mind you are gradually dropping down into the Sac River bottom. I kept telling my wife that we were eventually going to have to climb out of this river bottom to reach Bolivar.
After the Sac River, mile 23, you began to see the gradual climb. I would say that from mile marker 27 to 31 was the hardest part of the climb, but this was still a nice gradual slope. This can be a little difficult for a beginner, my wife for example, who has just rode 27 miles so take your time. At about mile 31 the trail turns back to pavement. At about mile 33 the trail suddenly comes to a stop at HWY 13 in Bolivar. You have to make a choice here. The map shows that you need to ride on the road and cross 13 over a highway bridge about a mile northwest. We decided on the shorter and more dangerous route by crossing 13 right there. You can see the trail across Hwy 13 and can ride straight across the Hwy to pick up the trail again. This is what we did. Be careful crossing the highway because traffic is really flying.
On the other side of the HWY you hit the trail again that turns into a gravel single track but is real easy to ride. You eventually hit the paved trail again and ride a short distance to the Bolivar trail head.
Overall we really enjoyed the entire trip. The trail was great but yet not a totally flat easy ride like in a city park. You will ride on a variety of surfaces from pavement, pea gravel, coarser gravel, mud and grass. Some parts of the trail were groomed well while other parts hadn't seen a mower or a trimmer in a while. We both felt that the under groomed portions of trail gave a very remote, out there feel that we enjoyed. For the entire trip we saw 10 people, and four of them were horseback riders. I highly recommend the entire trip to everyone.
"The long-awaited section of the Frisco Highline Trail between the Greene-Polk County line and Bolivar opened last September (2005), and riders who like a little wild with their ride are in luck. The surface is tame enough--I rode the compressed base rock trail on a road bike, which wasn't optimal but worked fine. The wildness comes in the scenery--a mix of forests, pastures, unplowed native prairie (at Mile Marker 32), and fifteen bridges (compared to zero on the Greene County stretch). Several of the trestles are pretty impressive, a couple hundred feet long and high enough to make me glad of the railing. I don't think the map is wrong (as another reviewer writes)--it just isn't detailed enough to follow successfully. When you reach the point where the trail surface ends at the Highway 13 frontage road just outside Bolivar (headed north), go left and keep following the bike rider symbols painted on the pavement. It's the safest way into town. You can cross Highway 13 as the other writer suggests, but it's a divided four-lane with 60 mph traffic . . . and the first quarter mile of the trail on the other side is unimproved ballast gravel.
Or don't go into Bolivar at all. A mile and a quarter due east of the trail on Highway U, just a couple miles south of town, is Smith's Restaurant. Their menu describes the $5.99 pork tenderloin sandwich as ""a meal by itself."" It's actually two meals by itself. Add an order of sweet potato fries, and feed a friend, too.
I'm looking forward to another ride later this spring. The flowers should be great!"