Hikers, cyclists and runners packed the event center at Orlando's in South County on April 23 to hear the latest plans for Great Rivers Greenway. Avid bicyclists came to the public hearing in significant numbers on two wheels.

"We're pretty excited that we have almost 200 people here tonight at the meeting," said Susan Trautman, CEO for Great Rivers Greenway. "A lot of active users of the trail are here and they want to know when a number of active trail connections and projects are going to be completed."

Great Rivers Greenway representatives announced a two-phase project at the meeting, but also emphasized their vision of eventually connecting all of the St. Louis region with trails. Right now, the situation is: "110 miles and counting."

The first phase of the latest project includes restrooms, benches, new landscaping, a climbing play structure and the initial extension of Grant's Trail's (also known as Gravois Greenway) from its current endpoint near Orlando's Event Center.

The second phase will extend the existing eight miles of Grant's Trail an additional two miles to connect with the River Des Peres Greenway.

When the full extension is complete, there will be three greenways linked together – Gravois, River Des Peres and Mississippi – with 21 continuous miles to explore and enjoy.

The route will make it possible for people to walk, run, or ride a bike between Kirkwood and Shrewsbury on a wide arc that dips into the Affton area. Trail users will be able to visit Grant's White Haven, River Des Peres Park, the Shrewsbury MetroLink Station, Jefferson Barracks Park and many other points of interest without ever leaving a greenway trail.

"I use Grant's Trail all the time now. My wife, Holly, and I hike and bike it quite a bit," said Michael Griffin, a Green Park resident. "We moved to Green Park specifically to be near the trail and I use it to get to an Express Bus stop for downtown where I work.

"When I heard about this public meeting, I decided to come just to hear about the timetable for the projects," added Griffin. "Theoretically, people are going to be able to start at the trailhead at Oakland and Kirkwood, and then ride all the way around to the Shrewsbury MetroLink Station."

Griffin said he looks forward to getting off Grant's Trail and onto a sliver of the River Des Peres Trail to get to the Mississippi Greenway Trail where he can head south to the River City Casino and Jefferson Barracks.

Greenway Timetables

According to Seth Treptow, Great Rivers Greenway Communications Manager, the phase one facility improvements will be completed by the end of 2018. Phase two trail connector improvements should be completed by the end of 2019.

"The River Des Peres Greenway trail construction to the Mississippi Greenway near River City Casino is pretty close to completed, but we are waiting for MSD to complete its own project where the Des Peres River comes into the Mississippi," said Treptow. "MSD says their project is likely to take a year or so, and we have to wait for that to be done."

Treptow said many commuters are interested in the construction that will link Grant's Trail at Orlando's to the River Des Peres Trail near Lemay Park and the Carondelet Park Connector. The new connection will allow hundreds of South County residents to hike or bike to the MetroLink Station in Shrewsbury.

"Right now, without a connection to the Gravois Greenway (Grant's Trail), we still have 300 commuters hiking or biking to the MetroLink Station daily," Treptow said.

Participants at the recent meeting at Orlando's were surveyed on a number of issues related to Great Rivers Greenway use and development.

More than 75 percent of meeting respondents said they would like to see more restroom facilities and drinking fountains along the greenways. Only 10 percent were interested in covered bicycle storage options or construction of exercise stations.

"I'm primarily interested in seeing a focus on connecting the trails and completing all the greenway trails," said Michael Griffin of Green Park. "I would like to see that happen before I get to be an old man."

Cliff Cave Project

Some South County residents inquired about a project already underway in Oakville. The construction project will provide a paved trail between the upper portion of Cliff Cave County Park and the existing 4.6 miles of paved trails that run through the park's lower portion.

This project includes the creation of a trailhead on Cliff Cave Road for a future connection to the north that will eventually extend the Mississippi Greenway to the existing trails within Jefferson Barracks Park.

Trautman said the completed project at Cliff Cave Park will allow people to enjoy amazing views of the Mississippi and to take advantage of safe ways to explore the park's terrain.

The first step, now underway, is to remove vegetation along the planned greenway path. These efforts follow guidelines provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect species of tree roosting bats – including the endangered Indiana Bat that currently hibernates in nearby Cliff Cave.

Anne Jesse of Sunset Hills said she cannot wait for all the improvements for Cliff Cave, Jefferson Barracks, Grant's Trail at Orlando's and more. She now uses Grant's Trail and the Meramec Greenway in Fenton and Kirkwood.

"It was wonderful GRG hosted this meeting, because the extension of Grant's Trail to River des Peres Trail has been long desired," said Jesse. "The St. Louis area is desperately in need of a trails system for exercisers.

"Cities the world over know that biking and walking infrastructure is important to citizens health and happiness," added Jesse. "I've bicycle toured in 42 countries, so I've seen this first hand. It's why the greater St. Louis area has passed the propositions to increase taxes for the development of green space, trails and parks."