The expansion of bicycle use in Missouri doesn’t always come in the form of newly built trails and roads.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recently chose hundreds of paths less traveled for hunters, anglers, hikers, and — in particular — cyclists to explore. Beginning February 28, about 1,500 miles of service roads on 300 conservation properties were set to open, allowing access to areas that previously had been limited almost exclusively to the department’s staff.
“We hope we get new people out to conservation areas to experience them for the first time,” said Amy Buechler, recreational use program lead for the MDC. “Most people know about the state parks, but the conservation areas are also great places to explore nature. We hope they fall in love with them.”
The expansion came largely at the behest of cyclists seeking a deeper dive into conservation lands. “We wanted to give more people more access, and we want to remain relevant to Missourians,” Buechler said. “We also had requests from hunters and anglers who wanted access to go farther into more remote areas.”
Increased access signals a recalibration of the delicate balance between recreation and conservation and indicates that the MDC is willing to accept the potential for tension between hunters (who dread disruption by cyclists) and cyclists (who want to ride without fear of an errant projectile).
Rather than an overhaul in philosophy, though, the new regulations represent an attitude tweak. As Buechler notes, the regulations apply to just 300 of the state’s 1,000-plus conservation areas. In addition, service roads aren’t maintained at the same level as the department’s multi-use trails, which are open to hikers, cyclists, and/or horseback riders. Some service roads are gravel; others are infrequently mowed paths of grass.
“We already have miles of multi-use trail that are extremely well-maintained,” Buechler said. “A lot of riders may prefer those.”
She added that bicycles are not allowed on service roads associated with nature and education centers, fish hatcheries, staffed ranges, offices, and designated natural areas. The inclusion of e-bikes has limits as well, including a requirement for operable pedals, a saddle, and a motor not to exceed 750 watts. (See the sidebar for more details on limitations.)
Where to Ride
Given the scope of the expansion — 1,500 miles spread over 300 properties — the best way to check access to a specific area is through the department’s searchable database, mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places, which was being updated at the time of publication to indicate the new trail access.
Near St. Louis, service road access adds a mile to the trails at Rockwoods Range Conservation Area in western St. Louis County, 3 miles at William R. Logan Conservation Area in Lincoln County, 6 miles at Daniel Boone Conservation Area in Warren County, and 10.7 miles at William G. and Erma Parke White Memorial Wildlife Area in Lincoln County.
Cyclists near Kansas City have expanded access to 13 miles of service roads at Schell Osage Conservation Area, one of the top birding locations in the state; 9.5 miles at Maple Leaf Lake Conservation Area, right off Interstate 70; and 8.6 miles of roads at Cooley Lake Conservation Area in nearby Clay County.
“We’ll be learning as we go which service roads become more popular or which are more suitable for certain types of bike riding,” Buechler said. “We’re ready to be flexible and to balance the needs of hunters, anglers and cyclists.”
The key to ensure everyone’s enjoyment of the trails is adhering to trail etiquette. Buechler offered the following reminders.
Don’t ride trails when wet: This helps reduce erosion.
Share the trail: Maintain a safe speed and follow the rules — downhill users yield to uphill users; bikers yield to hikers and equestrian users; faster users yield to slower users.
Respect wildlife: Stay on trails and service roads to avoid disturbing or damaging wildlife habitat, especially for ground-nesting birds. Do not feed wildlife or leave food on the trails.
Avoid the trails during hunting seasons: The first test for sharing the trails will come in the spring turkey season, mid-April to May 8, when hunting is allowed from a half-hour before sunrise until 1 p.m. daily. For a full listing of seasons, check mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/seasons.
Also included in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s expansion of service road access and trails is the use of electric bikes (e-bikes) with two or three wheels, equipped with fully operable pedals, a saddle or seat for the rider, and an electric motor of not more than 750 watts, which meets one of the following three classes:
Class 1: The motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
Class 2: The motor is used exclusively to propel the bicycle and is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
Class 3: The motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 28 mph.
Author: Kathleen Nelson is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.