Once the site of a spur line of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail now whisks cyclists and pedestrians (instead of trains) between Columbia and the small town of McBaine. The City of Columbia had the foresight to purchase the former rail corridor upon its abandonment in 1977 in an early undertaking in the growing rail-trail movement, although the final piece of trail wasn’t completed until 2001.
In Columbia, the largest city in Mid-Missouri, the MKT Trail begins at Flat Branch Park. The park offers a playground and picnic area and is only a stone’s throw away from the University of Missouri’s historic campus centered on the Francis Quadrangle. The primarily brick academic buildings surrounding the quad are collectively listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Due to its proximity to the large university, the MKT Trail is extremely popular with students, many of whom use it to access housing southwest of campus. The trail facilitates this use by offering a number of connector paths to adjacent neighborhoods and apartment buildings along much of its route.
The short northern stretch of trail between Flat Branch Park and Providence Road has a concrete surface but transitions to well-maintained crushed gravel after that point. Coursing southwest, the trail has a slight downhill slope all the way to the Missouri River bottoms. Capital improvement projects carried out since the trail’s original opening have eliminated all at-grade crossings in favor of underpasses: it is now possible to travel the MKT Trail’s entire 8.9-mile distance without crossing a street.
Highlights along the scenic route include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden and the Forum Nature Area. The former features a bucolic landscaped backdrop for a memorial dedicated to the venerable civil rights leader, while the latter offers a wetlands trail and opportunities for bird watching. To the north of the Forum Nature Area, the County House Trail provides access to the Twin Lakes Recreation Area, which allows boating, fishing and swimming.
The MKT Trail also connects to Hinkson Creek Trail, which reaches the recreational gems of Grindstone Nature Area and Stephens Lake Park.
The MKT Trail’s southern end in rural Boone County emerges into open fields and wetlands. After hugging Perche Creek for a short distance, the trail meets the 238-mile Katy Trail State Park north of McBaine. This is undeniably the best part of the MKT Trail: it links the United States’ second longest rail-trail—which was built on the former MKT mainline—and the Missouri River with downtown Columbia (and vice versa). Continue west on the Katy Trail to travel to Boonville, Sedalia, Windsor and Clinton, and east to reach the edge of Jefferson City and the heart of St. Charles.
Parking for the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail is available at four trailheads: Flat Branch Park in downtown Columbia at 4th Street and Cherry Street (parking lot off Elm Street); Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden (800 W. Stadium Boulevard); the Forum Nature Area (2701 Forum Boulevard); and a dedicated parking lot at 3662 Scott Boulevard.