How Warsaw, MO, became one of the best rural towns for biking and walking in the U.S.--and how your town can do the same

How has Warsaw, Missouri, become one of the very best small rural cities in the U.S. for bicycling over the past few years?  It is a story that might inspire your town to do much of what Warsaw has done--because Warsaw's bicycle and trails planning has helped both the health and the economy of Warsaw.

Irv Jensen, Executive Director of the Benton County Tourism Commission was on hand when we recently awarded Randy Pogue, City Administrator of Warsaw, Missouri, with a Distinguished Service Award for his work envisioning and implementing Warsaw's ambitious bicycle and trails plan--a plan that has made Warsaw one of the best small, rural towns for bicycling in the U.S.

Irv summarized what Warsaw has done that has allowed the city to so dramatically change the environment for bicycling in Warsaw in just a few short years. This is a great template that other cities across Missouri and the Midwest can follow: 

Warsaw's historic Swinging Bridge is now a bike/ped connection
Warsaw's historic Swinging Bridge is now a bike/ped connection, linking levee trails on both sides of the lake that forms Warsaw's waterfront

The City of Warsaw enjoys a “one-of-a-kind” environment for outdoor recreation and biking.  Situated where Missouri’s Great Lakes meet (Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake) the community realized they had a unique opportunity to build their future based on their primary community asset:  the natural beauty of their environment.

At the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and nestled between two massive lakes, the area abounds with a staggeringly beautiful abundance of flora and fauna.  The terrain is extremely varied from miles of flat tree-lined levees to hills that would challenge Tour de France competitors.   

But having a resource does not always equal success.  To capitalize their environment, the City of Warsaw understood they needed a well-planned, well organized and well maintained trails program.

In 1997, they made a commitment to rebuild its city and make it an inviting place to live, recreate, and conduct business.  Fourteen years later with the community is an example for other rural areas.  In 2006, this small town of just over 2,000 people created their first Warsaw Trail Master Plan looking closely at their assets and how the community could provide cycling links for recreation and access to commercial, residential and school areas.  The term trail is deceiving  because the city made a commitment to create a system that is at least 10 foot wide and concrete surfaces where possible  allowing for better accessibility for all users.

Work commenced on miles of paved and non-paved biking and walking trails which capitalized on the extensive levee system on both Lake of the Ozark and the Truman Lake area.   Today well over 40 miles of trails exist in and around the City.   Additionally, bike lanes were added to all major arteries around the City. 

One of Warsaw's levee trails--the city has a fantastic partnership with the Corp
One of Warsaw's levee trails--the city has a fantastic partnership with the Corps of Engineers

In 2008, The Truman Lake Bike Club team up with the City of Warsaw to create an exciting mountain bike trail.  Truman Lake Mountain Bike Park has been built on Corps of Engineer land bordering Truman Lake.   The Bike Park is designed for riders of all ages and skill.  Mountain Bike Trails now total approximately 20 miles and feature a 16 mile looping trail named "Come & Get Some".

The City nurtures a cooperative public and private partnership for their trails.  Recently the City cooperated with community leaders to create the Osage Lakes Greenway Corporation.  Their mission is to plan, support and create a quality community trail system to enrich the lives of all people, regardless of age, while preserving our natural environment, promoting our history and educating the community on the importance of conservation and personal wellness.

And the results have made a difference.  In a recent editorial in the local paper Trish and Jerry Waldman, commented on the improvements made to the City of Warsaw’s recreation areas. 

Also, my husband and I love to bike.  The new trails from the dam to the harbor are great.  While living in Columbia (Missouri) we’d often spend our weekends riding up and down the Katy Trail along the Missouri River.  We’re now able to do that here in our own town.  Warsaw is truly a recreation destination that we are proud to call home. 

Warsaw has an amazing mountain bike trail system
Warsaw has an amazing mountain bike trail system--and hosts several mountain bike races each year. (Photo courtesy Truman Lake Bikes, Warsaw)

And economic growth has also resulted from the emphasis on biking in the area.  Recently opened Truman Lake Bikes is a full service store that provides sales, service and rental.  The store has doubled its sales each year for the past three years and one of the nation’s foremost outlets for Trek® Bikes.

Warsaw has set the lofty goal of becoming “The Most Bike-Friendly community in Missouri.”

Given what they have accomplished thus far, it would be a fair bet that they will reach their goal.

For more information on biking in Warsaw visit www.welcometowarsaw.com.

Warsaw area bicycle and trails supporters have recently formed a local advocacy group, the Osage Lakes Greenway Corporation. The city's next logical step--beyond continuing to expand its on road bicycle system, trails systems, walkability, programs, and events--is to apply for Bicycle Friendly Community status.

Encouraging communities around Missouri to become friendlier for bicycling and walking, as Warsaw has done, is one of the objectives of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri--as is spreading the word about best practices among Missouri communities, so that other communities across Missouri can follow suit.

Encouraging the growth of Bicycle and Walk Friendly Community in Missouri is another of our specific objectives.

Your membership and support of MoBikeFed helps make our vision become reality!