By Joe Stumpe
ANDOVER – Don’t be surprised if you spot some furry friends while checking out Andover’s newest biking and walking trail. Scaly ones, too.
The four-mile extension of the Redbud Trail, from Prairie Creek Road to U.S. 400 near Santa Fe Road, runs through scenic Kansas countryside that animals seem to enjoy just as much as humans. A good part of it is shaded by a canopy of trees.
“It’s real picturesque,” said Kim Austin, a volunteer with the Andover-Augusta Rail Trail Initiative, a nonprofit that developed the route.
“There’s deer, turtles – a lot of turtles. Friendly snakes. There have been some racoons, coyotes. Skunks. It just depends on what time you’re on it. We have a goat that gets out there. The goat actually eats poison ivy, so we’re pretty excited about it.”
The extension is part of an effort to create a 20-mile recreational trail stretching from downtown Wichita to Augusta, following the abandoned line of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (later the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad). The new section increases the trail’s length to six miles in and around Andover. It had already been paved by the city from the Sedgwick/Butler county line at 159th Street to the 13th Street Sports Park. The extension running into rural Butler County is made of finely crushed limestone, much easier for bikes and strollers to navigate than the ballast rock left by the railroad.
Andover-Augusta Rail Trail Initiative (AARTI) formed about seven years ago, achieved nonprofit status in 2014 and began raising money to match a $40,811 grant from the Sunflower Foundation through donations and events such as last month’s Midwest Beerfest. Volunteers helped build the extension and will now maintain it. A ribbon-cutting to open the extension and the Redbud Trailhead Park at 1601 N. Main, which features parking and a small shelter, was held Sept. 29.
AARTI members hope to extend the trail another four miles east, into Augusta, but bridges would be needed to cross U.S. 400 and the Whitewater River. Austin says a Kansas Department of Transportation officials “told us that once we got this section of the trail done, they would put a pedestrian bridge over Highway 400.”
In the other direction, she’s hopeful that the city of Wichita will continue developing the Redbud trail from Woodlawn Avenue to 159th street. The City Council voted to do so in January 2017 but similar plans have been delayed in the past. The trail is already paved from 1-135 to Woodlawn.
Her favorite story about the trail comes from one day when she and other volunteers were out helping maintain it.
“A guy from Texas was out riding. He was up here for (training at) Flight Safety for three weeks. He was absolutely amazed at our trail system and said we have such a gem. He was very impressed.”