A popular Missouri hiking trail system could be coming to Franklin County.
The Franklin County Commission approved providing the Ozark Trail Association with its geographic information system (GIS) data that would allow it to access landowner information. Jim Schneider, a board member with the Potosi-based group, said the Ozark Trail Association would like to talk to landowners about obtaining land near the Meramec River to allow the Ozark Trail to be expanded through the county — ultimately connecting from its current terminus at Onondoga Cave State Park near Leasburg to a planned future extension of the Great Rivers Greenway around Pacific.
“That’s, kind of, been the longterm vision of the Ozark Trail — to connect St. Louis to the Arkansas region,” Schneider said.
The expansion project is in its “initial exploratory phases,” said Schneider, who is chair of the Ozark Trail Association’s Trail Planning and Development Committee. The general plan is to follow the Meramec River Valley in extending the trail.
“Just take a look at it and understand who all the landowners are,” Schneider said Monday. “Then begin contacting and working with landowners to obtain permission to build a trail.”
The GIS data will provide data on parcels and who owns the land, Schneider said.
While they would like to keep the trail close to the Meramec River, Schneider said they could put temporary sections along roads if they are unable to obtain all the land. “It’s a very evolutionary process,” Schneider said.
“If the landowners don’t want the trail, we could reroute that and take it to other landowners along an alternative route,” he added.
The 390 miles of Ozark Trail is now in several sections, but the largest contiguous part starts near the south central Missouri community of Thomasville and goes north to Onondaga Cave State Park. Schneider said the existing trail is primarily built through public lands, such as the Mark Twain National Forest, but the Franklin County part would mostly be on private land.
The Ozark Trail Association could purchase property for the trail expansion from some landowners, while others might be willing to donate some of their land, Schneider said.
The Ozark Trail differs from the existing Katy Trail or the planned Rock Island Trail, which are designed where railroad lines have been in place. Ozark Trail planners have to create a trail line from scratch.
The Ozark Trail offers hikers a serene experience in nature, Schneider said. “You can experience all the beauty that the Ozarks have to offer,” he said.
Franklin County was previously considered for a connection to a scenic route through the Ozarks, this one for motorized vehicles. A spur on Highway 185 from Sullivan to Potosi was considered to connect with the main Ozark Run Scenic Byway but was removed after attendees at a public meeting in Caledonia expressed concerns about Highway 185’s perceived “poor safety record,” which officials said was not backed up by statistics. The spur connecting the Ozark Run to Interstate 44 was, instead moved to Highway 8 between St. James and Potosi.
At this point, Schneider said the hiking Ozark Trail definitely wants to be in Franklin County and connect to the Great Rivers Greenway. The Ozark Trail Association is also working on eventually connecting to the Ozark Highlands Trail, along Norfork Lake near the Missouri-Arkansas border.
“The Ozark Highlands Trail, when it’s connected, will go all the way to Fort Smith, Arkansas,” Schneider said. “That means you’ve got a 700-plus mile trail.”
The concept of the Ozark Trail was first discussed in 1976, with the first portions of the trail beginning construction in 1981, according to the trail association’s website. More than 200 miles of trail were in place by 1991.
After Franklin County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to provide GIS data to the Ozark Trail Association, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the county will waive the fee to provide the trail group with GIS data because it is a nonprofit.
“That’s typically what we do in that case,” he said.