KC's wilderness islands are ideal for hiking

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By BRENT FRAZEE, The Kansas City Star
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — Lisa LaCombe squeezed through a crack between two giant boulders, then continued down a hiking path that was the picture of wilderness.

The trail hugged rocky outcroppings and small bluffs. To the left, the woods glowed with the emerald green of new spring growth.
Beautiful. And probably a long way from the city, right?
Wrong. LaCombe was in the city, not far from the traffic, businesses and fast pace of life along Missouri Highway 7 in Blue Springs.
LaCombe was hiking the Bethany Falls Trail in the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area she manages for the Missouri Department of Conservation — an island of wilderness in the metro area.
“This looks like something you’d see in the Ozarks,” LaCombe said as she paused under a rocky outcropping that hung over the trail. “It feels pretty remote out here.
“But every once in a while you’ll hear the traffic in the distance and you’ll be reminded of how close we are to the city.”
A unique setting? Hardly. The Kansas City metro area is filled with beautiful hiking trails tucked away in the green spaces that development hasn’t touched, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/10oBNGW) reported.
Consider the scene 30 miles northwest of Burr Oak. Just off Missouri 9 in downtown Parkville, Jim Reed, Patricia Harris and Lewis Jonas literally hiked away from the fast pace of life in the suburbs, following a trail in the Parkville Nature Sanctuary.
The path wound through a hardwood forest, then ascended to a hillside where a beautiful waterfall cascaded down the rocky terrain. They continued on to a creek that peacefully flowed through the woods.
“When I was a kid, we would ride horses in this area and I remember how beautiful it was,” said Harris, who is the new director of the nature sanctuary. “It was undeveloped at the time, and it was fairly remote.
“Now, the city has just grown in around it. But I still feel like I’m a long way from Kansas City when I get out here on these trails.”
Burr Oak Woods and the Parkville Nature Sanctuary are two shining examples of what lies just beyond the loud honks of Kansas City traffic.
Both offer a series of short trails, easily handled by a diversity of user groups but still scenic enough to appeal to the experienced hiker.
LaCombe can attest to that. She is an avid hiker and backpacker, often using her vacation time and weekends to take multi-day trips everywhere from the wilderness areas in the Ozarks to the rugged terrain in the mountain states.
But she still loves hiking the trails of Burr Oak Woods, too.
“You don’t expect to see terrain like this right in the city,” she said. “These rocks are estimated to be 450 million years old.
“They’re limestone and they’ve weathered over the years to form these outcroppings and boulders.”
But that’s just part of the intrigue of hiking at Burr Oak Woods. That Bethany Falls Trail, which is a 1.33-mile hike, winds past a prairie and the remnants of an old homestead. Five other trails on the conservation area cater to everyone from beginners to the advanced who want a longer hike.
Hikers can take a break and head inside to the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center, where there are displays and a wildlife viewing area where nature lovers can peer through the glass and get a close look at everything from hummingbirds to big tom turkeys at the bird feeders.
The beauty of nature and the land’s history also are on display at the Parkville Nature Sanctuary and the adjacent White Alloe Creek Conservation Area acquired by the Department of Conservation in 1998. The nature sanctuary includes six short hiking trails, which takes visitors past a waterfall, White Alloe Creek, habitat that attracts bluebirds and butterflies, and historic sites.
The Old Kate Trail, for example, has quite a story behind it.
“Years ago, this was a working farm run by Park College (now known as Park University),” said Reed, who served as director of the nature sanctuary before retiring recently. “The students would work the farm to pay for some of their tuition.
“There was a mule named Old Kate that would haul water to the students and the buildings on campus. When she finally died, they placed a marker on the grounds in her honor.”
A root cellar where past students carved their names into the wood and a Girl Scout cabin built in 1949 also are popular stops along the hiking trails
The nature sanctuary is maintained primarily by volunteers such as Jonas, who has hiked the trails in Parkville for years.
“It’s a great place to enjoy nature,” Jonas said. “Just the other day, I saw a hen turkey with her little ones. And we’ll see a lot of deer.
“I’ve been hiking here for a long time, but I never get tired of it. There’s always something new to see.”