As the Missouri River recedes, many sections of the Katy Trail are opening up again for biking and hiking, but officials with Missouri State Parks are telling residents to use caution on the trail.
Katy Trail Coordinator Melanie Robinson-Smith said the trail is open again from Wainwright on east to Hartsburg; she said it's also open from Providence to Rocheport.
"There is a lot of mud in some places along with some debris that we are trying to remove," she said. "These sections are in relatively good shape, though."
As of Thursday afternoon, the Missouri River at Jefferson City was at 23.9 feet. The National Weather Service forecast called for the river to fall to a flood stage of 23 feet sometime Saturday, the first time it's been at that level since late May.
Robinson-Smith said they left sections of the trail open as long as they could, but some have been closed since early May; others have only been closed since the beginning of last month.
"We see flooding many times on the trail, but this is the worst since the Flood of '93," Robinson-Smith said. "In some places, we're going to have to do assessments of bridges where we'll have to replace decks."
On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Corps of Engineers officials announced they would continue releasing water from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, the southern most of their dams on the northern end of the Missouri, at a rate of 70,000 cubic feet per second through the end of the month. That's significantly higher than normal for this time of the year, they said, which will mean the Missouri will stay "substantially higher" than normal. The NWS forecast calls for the river to stay at around 22 feet from this weekend through all of next week even though little to no rain is in the forecast for this area.
Robinson-Smith said they did a cursory inspection of the entire Katy Trail, from one end of the state to the other, this week.
"There's a lot of work to be done before we get back to full operation," she said. "How long that will be and how much that will cost, we don't know. For the bridges, we have to do inspections and that means getting underneath them. So until the water gets down low enough, we can't do that."
Hartsburg Mayor Bill Molendorp said it's been nearly two months since the trail from his town to Jefferson City was fully operational. He's glad to see the trail start to be used again.
"I biked on Thursday and saw riders, and that makes me feel good," he said. "We do have businesses that thrive on people coming through on the trail, but they also have good followings so people have still come to support them. The trail I've ridden on, from Hartsburg to Jefferson City, I think, is in pretty good shape."
Before people go out to use the trail, Robinson-Smith recommends they check the website ostateparks.com, which is updated daily about what areas are reopened.
As far as the other major river in the area, the Osage, Truman Dam in Warsaw was releasing 45,000 cfs of water on Thursday afternoon, and Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks was releasing 50,000 cfs. Corps officials said they want to increase Truman's releases to 50,000 in the next few days after heavy rains at the lake on the Fourth of July weekend caused dams further upstream on the Osage to reduce their releases.