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Rural Missouri Magazine
Hit the 'Nozarks' trail
Hikers, bikers and horseback riders
find fun in north Missouri

by Jim McCarty

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.

That 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.”

Members 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 of people.”

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.

Meanwhile, 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 erosion.

“IMBA (the International Mountain Biking Association) will tell you that if you build trails right, all groups will be able to use them,” says Long.

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 trails.

“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. The group’s maintenance efforts take a burden off park personnel.

Long admits 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.”

Volunteers trim 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, Long says.

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.

Visitors 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.

Doug, dressed in his cycling garb, clears debris from the trail during a ride.

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 skill levels.

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 don’t have to be mountain bikers. If it’s a family that likes to hike together, go adopt a part of the trail.”

He 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 I’ve got a big smile on my face.

“North 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 greenhillstrails.com or send e-mail to info@greenhillstrails.org. Tim Riekena’s book sells for $18 and is available from the author at 2512 Doniphan St., Chillicothe, MO 64601.

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