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story.lead_photo.caption A part of the Katy Trail west of Portland remains indefinitely closed due to unsafe conditions caused by an April 2019 rock slide. Photo by Olivia Garrett / News Tribune.

For months, the bicyclists who used to fill Holzhauser's Bar & Grill, a Portland business right off the Katy Trail, have been noticeably absent.

"This is the first time in my six years working here that this has happened," part-time employee April Wimmer said. "On weekends, we could be full with bicyclists — a lot of families ride the trail together — but we haven't been seeing that."

In April, not long before floodwaters swept over many parts of the trail, a rock slide left part of the trail west of Portland impassible. Since then, a trail closure has dragged on indefinitely.

"A portion of the bluff dropped off due to a rain storm," Katy Trail coordinator Melanie Smith said. "Our main concern at this point is to ensure safe access, so until we can do that, it will remain closed."

Temporary closures aren't unusual on the trail, which stretches across the state from Clinton to Machens. But this closure is different — there is no clear re-opening date on the horizon.

"It has affected business tremendously," Wimmer said. "We have no clue as to if or when they plan on fixing the trail."

This month, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources launched a new trail advisory map to help inform people of trail conditions, closures and detours. It very clearly marks the section between mile markers 117 and 118 as closed.

"We've cleared out some rock, but it's certainly not passable," Smith said.

For cyclists hoping to ride the whole trail end to end, the closure presents a tricky roadblock.

Wimmer said she has heard from riders who have tried to find a way around. Others have told her they've ignored the signs blocking the path and have actually passed their bikes over the rocks.

"We don't have any recommended detours," Smith said. "(Missouri) 94 is close, but that is not something that we would recommend for all riders."

For the Katy Trail park office to recommend a detour, staff have to be confident the alternate path would be safe for riders of all skill levels. Missouri 94, with no shoulder for cyclists to ride along, doesn't fit that definition.

"Folks would need to use that only at their own risk," Smith said.

Engineers have visited the site to examine the collapsed bluff and recommend solutions.

"Our planning and development staff are looking into options," Smith said.

There is no easy fix to the problem — even once a solution is chosen, staff will still have to secure and designate funding for the clean-up project.

"It's tricky because we want people to be on the trail, but we also want people to be safe," Smith said. "It's a balancing act."

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