Connecting the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, with several outlying communities, the former Missouri Pacific Railroad corridor now provides hikers, joggers, bikers, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers with a spacious trail on which to enjoy the scenery and wildlife of southeastern Nebraska year round.
History of the MoPac
Missouri Pacific Railroad
Founded in 1849, the Missouri Pacific Railroad was established to connect the city of St Louis, Missouri to the west coast during the California gold rush. Progress was slow, and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, construction was halted at Kansas City. After the war ended, the railroad continued westwards, crossing the Missouri River into the the territories of Kansas and Nebraska.
In 1886 the Missouri Pacific's north-western line reached the small town of Lincoln, where it connected with the Burlington and Northwestern lines as well as the Union Pacific line, which comprised the eastern portion of the newly completed trans-continental railroad.
For nearly a century, the line served as a link between the southern states and the western territories and caused the city of Lincoln to grow rapidly. In addition to regular passenger service to the west, the line supplied frontier communities with lumber from Arkansas and Missouri, and coal from Virginia and Kentucky.
Durring the Great Depression, however, passenger service on the north-west line was discontinued and freight traffic began declining in the 1960s and '70s. When heavy rains washed out a section of the track near Elmwood in 1984, the Missouri Pacific decided not to repair it and the north-west line was removed from service.
MoPac Trail West
The north-western line corridor lay unused until 1989 when the city of Lincoln passed a bond issue to purchase the portion that lay within the city limits for $1.7million. A bike trail was built down the middle of the 100-feet-wide (30m) easement running from Peter Pan Park at the centre of town, four miles (6km) to the Novartis Trailhead at the city's eastern limit. The MoPac proved to be a popular addition to the city's growing trail network.
MoPac Trail East
In 1991, the Nebraska Trails Foundation and the Great Plains Trails Network purchased an additional 22 miles (35km) of the former railroad corridor east of Lincoln for $4.45million. The land was deeded to the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District to become part of the American Discovery Trail's coast-to-coast trail network. The eastern trail was opened to the public in 1994, connecting Lincoln with the nearby communities of Walton, Eagle, Elmwood and Wabash.
Charles L Warner Equestrian Trail
Paralleling the eastern trail from 98th street to Elmwood, a second, undeveloped, path for horseback riding was cleared and marked. The trail is named after the former director of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District. Horse trailer parking is available at 98th and 'A' Streets.
Riding on the MoPac
The four-mile portion of the West Trial that lies within the city limits is paved six feet (2m) wide. As a former rail bed, it is nearly flat and straight, so riding is easy. Bridges over 48th and 'O' Streets allow riders to cross these busy streets without stopping for traffic. When the weather is nice, the trail is crowded with hikers, joggers, and rollerbladers, so cyclists may often be required to slow down in order to pass.
The rural portion of the East Trail is made of crushed, screened limestone. The rocks are very fine, making the trail ideal for hybrid bikes, but road bikes should have no trouble. However, after heavy rain, the trail may be soft and a bit messy. As with the western portion of the trail, it is mostly straight and level except for short dips to country road crossings where railroad overpasses have been removed. Traffic on the country roads appears quickly, so extreme caution should be used when approaching these crossings.
From the Novartis trailhead, the Eastern trail quickly leaves the suburbs of Lincoln and cuts through the acreages and wooded areas of eastern Lancaster County. Much of the trail is bordered by hedgerows containing dense brush and large trees which provide partial shade.
As it enters southwestern Cass County, the trail bends to the northeast and climbs the gentle ridge which separates the middle and northern branches of the Little Nemaha River. At its highest point the trail runs perfectly straight and level for two long stretches and offers wide views of the patchwork of farmland in all directions.
The last three miles of the trail are an unimproved dirt path running along the Weeping Water Creek, which it crosses several times. This is the most wooded and tranquil portion of the trail.
Many kinds of wildlife can be encountered along the trail throughout the year. Migrating birds can be seen in the spring and autumn, as well as local species such as the bobwhite quail and the ring-necked pheasant. Smaller animals, such as raccoons and opossims, are common as well as a few larger mammals such as whitetail deer.
Points of Interest
Peter Pan Park - 33rd and 'X' Streets, Lincoln, at mile -4.0
Parking, water and rest-rooms are available at the park, along with barbeque grills and playground equipment.
48th Street Bridge - 48th and 'X' Streets at mile -2.9
'O' Street Bridge - 73rd and 'O' Streets at mile -1.0
Novartis Trailhead - 84th and Hazelwood, Lincoln, at mile 0.0
End of the paved trail at the city limit. Parking, water and rest-rooms are available.
Equestrian Trailhead - 98th and 'A' Steets at mile 1.2
Horsetrailer parking is available.
The Walton Trail Company - 118th and 'A' St, Walton, at mile 2.7
Two blocks north of the trail is the former general store, which has been converted into a full-service bike shop, complete with sandwiches made with fresh baked bread, and beverages including espresso. They also offer a complete bike service, sales and rental.
Grace Lutheran Church - 11640 'A' Street, Walton, at mile 2.7
One block west of the Walton Trail Company. Special non-denominational services are held for users of the MoPac Trail every Sunday. The service begins at 11:30 (10:30 during the summer) and cyclists are welcome to attend in bike attire.
Steven's Creek - Mile 3.5
134th Street Culvert / Tunnel - South of Highway 34 at mile 4.0
Highway 34 Crossing - Between 176th and 190th at mile 7.4
No official parking, but an easy to find pick-up or drop-off spot.
Lou's Eagle Grocery - 545 South 5th Street, Eagle, at mile 10.0
Five blocks south of the trail on 5th Street.
Lou's Country Corner Market - 104 North 4th, Elmwood, at mile 17.2
Three blocks north of the trail on 4th Street.
Stove Creek - Mile 18.3
Weeping Water Creek - Mile 18.5
Wabash - End of trail at mile 22
Future of the MoPac
Plans are underway to extend the western end of the trail to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Campus (Husker Link), where it will connect with the Rock Island Bike Trail. The eastern end of the trail will also be extended to the former Lied Platte River Bridge near South Bend, where it will connect with the Omaha Trail Network.
Voluntary donation boxes are located along the trail. Suggested donations are $1 per day or $5 per year and are used exclusively for maintenance of the trail.