Railroaded

Amanda and Jeff Schaefer, the Strip decided, were probably the best human beings on the planet.

This tenderloin had put the Schaefers in an awful bind. The charming couple operates a bed and breakfast in the tiny town of Rhineland, Missouri, just a few miles west of famous wine-centric Hermann. Their B&B, The Doll House, was just steps from the famous Katy Trail that winds its way 225 miles across the state. Four years ago, the Schaefers saw an economic opportunity in the Katy Trail and seized it. They realized that the crushed-limestone path, built on the bed of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, was so popular with recreational adventurers from around the globe that even little Rhineland could support a lovely place to spend the night.

But if this meat patty was going to get all the way to Columbia on its bicycle that day — some 65 miles — it was going to need to leave much earlier than the Doll House’s scheduled 9 a.m. breakfast.

So at the crack of dawn, Amanda and Jeff rose and fixed this finicky filet a breakfast that it wouldn’t soon forget.

It was Memorial Day weekend, and we were in the middle of a three-day excursion that was turning out to be one of those rare occasions when everything seems right with the world. We would eventually cover 200 miles of the path, from its eastern terminus in St. Charles along the Missouri River (and to Columbia on a side trip) southwest to a magnificent, restored station-house in Sedalia. The trails-to-rails project continues another 35 miles to Clinton, which we planned to pick up on some future ride.

For now, we marveled at what genius it had taken to create the Katy. Propelling ourselves with our own power, whispering through quiet, strikingly scenic countryside, we had traveled mile after mile unmolested by auto traffic, often going hours without seeing another cyclist on the remoter parts of the trail. Along the way, we kept turning up gems such as the Schaefers’ hotel, or the roadhouse barbecue in Dutzow that beckoned to cyclists, or the little town of Rocheport, which seems to embrace the trail like no other burg on the route.

The Katy, we decided, is a wonder.

So naturally, it’s endangered.

After the MKT went defunct in the 1980s, smart Missourians jumped at the opportunity to “railbank” the line before old easements along the route could revert to original property owners. According to federal law, as long as the Katy’s entire right-of-way remains intact, it can be held in reserve indefinitely for possible reversion to a rail corridor — but in the meantime, it can be used for recreational purposes.

In other words, until someone wants to build a bullet train connecting St. Louis with Clinton, the Katy will remain one of the finest uses of public land in the country.

If it remains intact, that is.

By now you’ve no doubt heard about the controversy involving the Katy’s old rail bridge at Boonville, where the path turns south and goes away from the Missouri River on its way to Sedalia. The bridge is unused — its central portion is stuck in the up position to allow river traffic — and the bike path jogs to the east, where it picks up a modern auto bridge before rejoining the rail bed at the old, lovingly restored Boonville depot.

Although the path doesn’t go over the bridge, it’s still part of the railroad’s right of way. And the state has held its owner, Union Pacific Railroad, to an agreement that prevents the company from doing anything with it.

However, our esteemed boy governor, Matt Blunt, has decided to risk the Katy Trail’s very existence so that Union Pacific, one of his campaign contributors, can dismantle the bridge and reuse its steel, saving the company $10 million.

How generous of him. The Republican governor has already shown how eager he is to reward the people who helped him win office, handing out lucrative motor-vehicle-license-office contracts to his friends. Hell, what’s a few million in rusted steel for a corporate friend?

The Kansas City Star recently quoted legal experts who disagreed about whether the bridge’s dismantling would technically qualify as an interruption of the Katy’s right-of-way. But Missouri’s attorney general, Democrat Jay Nixon, doesn’t want to take a chance. He’s filed suit against the state’s Department of Natural Resources, headed by Blunt appointee Doyle Childers, who made the sudden decision to allow the bridge’s dismantling.

Nixon spokesman Jim Gardner tells this tenderloin that his boss has heard the arguments that the right-of-way will remain intact even if the bridge goes. But will anyone really believe that a rail line exists in thin air? “You’re not going to be able to do the Evel Knievel thing and jump across the river there,” he says.

No, and believe this pontificating porterhouse: There are plenty of still-angry landowners who are just champing at the bit to sue the Katy out of existence if the bridge goes away. They’re the same landowners who have tried for years to convince Congress that a few cyclists traveling through their remote farms terrify them. Because, apparently, pedalers in Lycra shorts are more of a nuisance than freight trains coming through their fields.

Yes, it’s a stupid argument. Which is why even the lunkheads in Washington haven’t bought it.

But getting through the thick heads in Jefferson City is another matter.

So this beefsteak hopes someone close to Blunt can make him realize that it’s not just the Lance Armstrong-loving crowd that will be put out by his inane plot to benefit a rail company. It’s good Missourians like Amanda and Jeff Schaefer, who want only to serve hearty breakfasts to hungry Katy adventurers.

Go there, governor. And try the waffles.

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