When fur traders set up camp in the area now known as St. Charles, they honored the rolling landscape by calling their settlement “Les Petites Cotes,” or “The Little Hills.”
To say the city has changed in the 248 years since the first settlers arrived is a vast understatement. St. Charles County is now Missouri’s third-most-populous county, with more than 360,000 residents. Primitive cabins have long been replaced with sprawling subdivisions and commercial developments.
But one aspect of the area that’s remained constant is the hills, some of which don’t feel so little.
Though I’m a St. Charles native, I’d never run the Centennial Greenway. I laced up my sneakers on a sunny November morning and hit the Katy Trail to Heritage Museum section of the greenway, expecting a quick and easy out-and-back.
The hills took me by surprise, giving both legs and lungs a nice workout. To take my mind off the burn, I focused on the vibrant red and golden trees to the west of the greenway and considered how much the area has grown.
The boom in population and commerce has created greater demand for recreational and transportation opportunities. St. Charles City and County — in partnership with Great Rivers Greenway, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, and Missouri Department of Transportation — are answering the call. Current and planned expansion projects will make it easier for trail users to get around in and near St. Charles.
The Katy Trail to Heritage Museum portion of the Centennial Greenway currently measures 2.3 miles in length. A short stretch near the Katy Trail Bridge Parking Lot utilizes Hemsath Road, continuing along the South River Road. As such, trail users may encounter light car traffic in the first half-mile.
The greenway curves gently to the right just beyond Route 364. From there, the path is dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles. The trail is approximately 8 feet wide and paved. Route 364 runs parallel to the greenway on the east, with trees and residential development to the west.
Back to those hills. The total elevation change is 221 feet, although the flats are few and far between. Several signs along the way warn of upcoming steep climbs and descents. The return trip from the Heritage Museum includes a short but particularly steep ascent on Hemsath Road (during which I resorted to humming the “Chariots of Fire” theme song). The climbs are a nice challenge for recreational runners and riders but may be daunting for new cyclists, especially.
The trail currently ends at The County Heritage Museum at Heritage Park, which features rotating exhibits that celebrate state and local history. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Restrooms are available during museum hours. The museum also has an outdoor drinking fountain.
A short, wooded hiking trail connects the Centennial Greenway with a residential community. Called Tia’s Trail, the path spurs off the greenway approximately 0.75 miles from the Katy Trail Bridge Parking Lot. Children and adults alike may enjoy exploring this scenic jaunt off the main path.
The greenway is easily accessible from nearby trails. From the Katy Trail Bridge Parking Lot, a short path connects it to the Katy Trial at mile marker 42.8. The Katy Trail offers access to Frontier Park and Main Street St. Charles 3.5 miles to the northeast. Those looking for major mileage can head southwest on the Katy Trail toward Defiance.
The 4.5-mile Creve Coeur Park Connector Trail meets the Centennial Greenway at the bridge parking lot. A dedicated bike and pedestrian lane crosses the Route 364 bridge before crossing under the roadway and into Creve Coeur Park.
Greenway expansion projects are underway in St. Charles County and beyond. The first of these expansion projects will make it easier and safer for St. Charles County residents to access the trail.
“Currently, some communities in St. Charles are separated from the greenway by highways 364 and 94,” said Seth Treptow, communications manager for Great Rivers Greenway. “This project will create two bridges that will connect people in these areas to the trail without having to access major roadways.”
Upon completion, greenway users will be able to access the bridges approximately 1.5 miles from the Katy Trail Bridge Parking Lot via a short path that comes in on the east side of the greenway. The bridge project is scheduled for completion in early 2018.
The project will have a strong impact on St. Charles bicyclists and pedestrians. Great Rivers Greenway estimates that 9,444 people live within six minutes of the greenway by bike. A planned greenway will connect the Highway 94 pedestrian bridge to Laurel and Wapelhorst parks in St. Charles County and will make the greenway network (and the Katy Trail) more accessible to those living north of Highway 94.
The bridge project also includes new landscaping features along the greenway and between the new bridges. More than 26 native plants — including 183 trees and 685 shrubs — will be planted to attract pollinators and control storm water runoff.
Centennial Greenway users will eventually be able to travel 17 miles from St. Charles County to Forest Park in St. Louis, and connect to Creve Coeur Park.
Two other sections of the Centennial Greenway have been completed to date. A 3-mile stretch extends from Shaw Park in Clayton to Olive Boulevard at I-170 in Olivette. The easternmost segment begins at Skinker and Forsyth boulevards and passes through the Washington University campus, ending in the Delmar Loop.
The greenway will run down the middle of the River Ring, a greenway network that will eventually connect the entire St. Louis region with 600 miles of pedestrian and bicycle trails.
Length: 2.3 miles
Rating: Beginner (although the hills may be challenging for inexperienced cyclists)
Usage: Running, walking and bicycling. Pets on leashes are permitted.
Parking: Available at the Katy Trail Page Bridge Parking Lot, located at Hemsath Road and the South River Road, or at the Heritage Museum.
Amenities: The greenway features several benches, as well as an outdoor water fountain at the Heritage Museum. Restrooms are available inside the museum during operation hours.
Kimberly Yawitz is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer in St. Louis, Mo.