Trail Ramblings, Revisited: The MoPac Trail From Rail To Limestone.

This week I’m revisiting the following post from several years ago.

The following is from the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy website: “In 1989, the citizens of Lincoln voted 3-to-1 in favor of a bond issue to support the city’s burgeoning trail system. As an editorial in the Lincoln Journal put it, the result “reaffirms the responsible desire of Capital City residents; they want to maintain theirs as an unusually progressive and attractive community, being willing to pay for it.” “Keep in mind that this was not too long after Rails-to-Trails Conservancy opened its doors in 1986 at the cusp of the rail-trail movement…It started the whole trail system in Lincoln,” said Great Plains Trails Network (GPTN) Founder Elaine Hammer of the bond initiative…In fact, Hammer and a handful of others believed in the trail’s potential so strongly that they mortgaged their own homes to help purchase the abandoned Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac) corridor when it came up for sale. Trail advocates had been burned a few years earlier when they were outbid by opponents in an attempt to purchase a portion of another nearby rail corridor, the Rock Island Railroad, and were determined not to lose another opportunity.” The bridge that takes the MoPac over 27th St. is named in her honor.

The view along the trail.

I very much would liked to have seen the Rock Island line become a trail too, but farmers like my parents were happy to buy back the land; the railway had always been a weedy annoyance to them. In the 1910’s a pair of hobos (an abbreviation for “homeward bound”) burglarized my grandparents’ house along the rail line while they worked in the fields. They had seen the pair walking up the the tracks before the incident. I think for land owners the idea of strangers on a trail through their property is one thing that makes it difficult to gain right-of-way, though they have much more to fear from motorists on the roads than from cyclists and hikers on trails.

The trail continues across the bridge along highway 31 to highway 50 at Heron Bay, then rejoins the old rail bed through Springfield north as far as Schramm Road.

The re-dedication of the Platte River bridge in 2019.

In 2002, 700 people (myself included) showed up for the opening of the Lied Bridge, the former Rock Island crossing over the Platte at South Bend. I don’t know how this number compares with it’s first opening as a railroad bridge around 1890. The bridge was badly damaged in the flooding of 2019, but re-opened in 2021. We’re still waiting for those eight miles of right-of-way for the trail connection to Wabash to be resolved, though I like the gravel and dirt that links the two trails. Since I last posted about this, the much loved mmr segment of 322nd “street” that was also badly damaged by the flooding several years ago closed and is no longer accessible.

The railway trestle of the Rock Island line remains near South Bend. The road entrance is now gated and locked. 

But what else existed along the MoPac? Did you know that there are two cold war era Atlas missile silos located along the MoPac on the other Side of Eagle and near Elmwood? (There are 10 more in this area.) They reach 10 stories under ground and there is little trace of them left above ground, but they were busy places from 1961 until decommissioned in 1965. If you saw the movie Hidden Figures, this is the missile program blacked out in the daily updates.

This site lies just a couple of miles east of Eagle.

The Missouri Pacific Railroad had a daily train to Lincoln that my grandmother could take from Wabash to Lincoln in the morning and back again in the afternoon in the days when railroad travel was common and there was twice-a-day mail delivery (including at Epworth Park). Back in Lincoln a few years later, had you ridden what is now the MoPac trail near 56th Street, you would have passed a large turkey farm stretching almost to “O” Street, which was well outside of the city limits.

The Wabash House, where railway guests could stay, is long gone. At one time construction of a lake was considered which would have put the eastern end of the trail under water.

In warm weather the trail is also the location of the popular Tuesday evening Nacho Ride to Eagle, and the monthly Pie Ride to Elmwood. Currently though, the MoPac East is still soft and wet from the thaw, so I don’t recommend riding it until it until dries out a little more.

Since this blog was originally posted, I’ve found old video of what it would have been like to ride the Rock Island through Lincoln in 1977. It’s sped up, but if you watch carefully you can spot the Penny Bridges.