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KENTUCKY MRT

Download a Kentucky MRT Map (124 KB pdf).
This map is for general orientation purposes only. It indicates the current status of the route, whether completed with signs on the ground, proposed, or still under development. Check back to this page for segment descriptions as they become available.

Proposed segments are being planned and have been assessed as generally rideable. Cyclists should use atlases and other sources to identify road routes.

Segments under development are marked in red and indicate dangerous cycling conditions. Bicyclists should proceed with extreme caution.

You will leave Cairo on a narrow bridge with fairly heavy traffic. Several cyclists have contacted the Cairo police/sheriff's department for an escort across this bridge; if you can secure an escort, do so. For the next 3.5 miles you will be on US#51, with two lanes and fairly heavy traffic into Wickliffe. You will continue on #51 for the next 4.5 miles to CR#1203 then onto SR#123, SR#239 and SR#94. These are good, rolling, winding, rural roads with a few substantial hills. #94 becomes 4-lane before you reach Hickman. During planting and harvest farmers drive big rigs on these roads. Since visibility on their equipment is limited, watch carefully when you pass them on the road.


Resources & Links

Mississippi River Parkway Commission -- An additional source of information for travelers to the Mississippi River regions is the website of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission.

 

Sense of Place

The historical and cultural texture of life on the Mississippi is incredibly rich. As you travel along the short 50 miles of the MRT in Kentucky, we hope that a few "ghosts" out of the past will accost you and that you will take time here to peel back the layers of history and to feel something of what our predecessor felt about "the West"—the magnificent part of the continent drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries.

Beautiful, rolling farmland dotted with historic farm buildings (with some forested areas) provides the backdrop for riding in western Kentucky. This was once Chickasaw Indian hunting grounds, endowed with thick cane and dense forests. Here roamed bear and dear, fox and wolf. Clear streams afforded excellent fishing. The skies were filled with wild ducks and geese, especially during fall and spring migrations. It was a splendid hunting ground. During the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, thought that the Chickasaws, noted for their bravery, independence and warlike disposition, were aiding the British in their efforts to quell the American rebellion. He suggested to General George Rogers Clark that a military post should be built to deal with the Chickasaws. After completing Fort Jefferson, General Clark departed, leaving 100 soldiers. The apparent safety of the fort attracted white settlers to cross the Appalachians in the earliest days of the "Western Movement". When word of the American activities reached the Chickasaw villages, their warriors launched a vigorous attack against the post. All of the settlers were quickly driven inside, where they were trapped along with the soldiers. The Chickasaws prudently withdrew when General Clark returned with his troops. This vast domain would pass from the Chickasaws to the United States in 1816, when General Andrew Jackson, feared and respected by the Indians, persuaded them of the wisdom of selling.

In the town of Wickliffe, the Wickliffe Mounds (502) 335-3681 provides an opportunity to step back into Mississippian Indian life that began here as early as 800 A.D. This is an active research center, with excavations that provide many clues to the lifestyle of the ancestors of the Chickasaws. This site at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was used as a ceremonial and trade center for a vast area of the eastern United States.

High on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi is the Columbus Belmont State Park. It provides a spectacularly beautiful view of the Mississippi and the opposite Missouri shore. If possible, plan to camp here, where you can watch the sun set over the Mississippi, have dinner and even sleep under the stars over the river. It is a very special experience.

The park commemorates the Civil War battles of Belmont and Columbus, preserving many of the relics of the battlefields in a small museum in a pre-Civil War house. When the war began in 1861, Kentucky refused to join the Confederacy and declared itself to be neutral. This did not prevent many of the state's citizens from sympathizing with the southern cause, and about 35,000 of them joined the Confederate Army. About twice that number joined the Union forces. On August 1, 1861 a Union steamer, the Cheney, was seized by a handful of Confederates when it docked at Columbus, and most of the townspeople turned out to cheer the event. About a month later, a Union gunboat cruised past the town, and the commander sent the following plaintive query to his fleet commander: "At Columbus the rebels fly the secession flag from the top of a lofty pole in the center of the village, in defiance of our gunboats. What shall I do with Columbus?" Before any Union action could be taken, General Leonidas K. Polk, the "Fighting Bishop from Tennessee", marched in and took possession of the site. Soon the bluff was bristling with 140 guns. A huge chain, a piece of which is on display in the park, was stretched across the river, attached to the bluff with a big 4,200 pound sea anchor and a mile across to the opposite shore with a large capstan. Columbus became known as the "Gibraltar of the West". The Union never took Columbus by force. When General Grant, in his "Western Campaign" to control the Mississippi, captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson further south, the Columbus position no longer mattered and its fortifications were rendered useless.

The small community of Cayce (40m) is the boyhood home of the legendary Casey Jones. After becoming an engineer, he developed a reputation for running his train on time, or "getting her there on the advertised!" Promoted to the Cannon Ball Express, which ran from Memphis to Canton, Mississippi, Casey was assigned by the ICRR to a Rogers-Ten-Wheeler, No. 382. It had six "drivers" or wheels, each approximately six feet high. He had a kindred spirit for this engine, and his fireman, Slim Webb, quoted Casey as saying, "The old girl has her high heel slippers on tonight!" On April 29, 1900, before midnight, Casey and Slim rolled the Express late for the run south to Canton, apparently running at speeds of 100 miles per hour." They were practically on time when they reached the curve at Vaughn, just north of Canton, and saw the caboose lights of another train extended on the main line. Casey told Slim to jump and he did. Casey could have jumped but chose to stay in the engine and try to avoid a collision. It was too late. The Cannon Ball ran through the caboose, a car of corn, a car of hay and part way through a car of lumber before coming to a stop. Casey died, and Wallace Saunders, a humble, black engineer wiper from Canton, wrote the song, "Casey Jones", that made the engineer so famous.

The historic river town of Hickman was settled in 1819. Nestled under and atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, Hickman, according to Mark Twain, was "one of the most beautiful towns on the Mississippi." At the busy steamboat landing, corn, cotton, cattle, poultry, and Kentucky tobacco were loaded out, while farm tools and supplies were brought in from other places. An overland stage route to the east began at Hickman and wound its way to Nashville. Travelers lodged and found entertainment at the LaClede Hotel. Unmannerly guests found their way into the city jail, of which the ghost of the building, with "City Jail" clearly written, still can be seen.

The old residential section of town, high on the bluff, has imposing houses, graceful churches and the Fulton County Courthouse, with its distinctive Seth Thomas clock that proudly announces the hour and half-hour with a resonance that can be heard for miles around! From the top of the bluff you will wind your way down its face to the historic area at the foot of the bluff. On Clinton Street, facing a small park that softens the impact of Hickman's huge floodwall, you will see the LaClede Hotel (no longer open). Its exterior is an architectural delight, with an unusual horseshoe entrance on Clinton Street and keyhole arches around the doors on Jackson Street. Here also is Jim Henson's Broom Shop with his broom-making museum. This is a fun place to visit; for Henson is a storyteller, who travels widely, holding his audiences spellbound with his broom-making monologues. Henson well recalls his grandfather advising him, "If you learn how to make a broom, you will always have a job". It is best to call Henson's shop (270) 236-2360 to see if he can be there when you visit.

If you have not taken the ferry from Dorena, Missouri to Hickman, you should plan a round-trip excursion. The ferry is small, providing a great close-to-the river experience. Upriver lies a navigation light called "Putney Light", named for an early settler who operated a wood yard on the left bank of the river. Early steamboats, which were small vessels, needed as much space as possible for cargo and passengers. They seldom carried more fuel than could be consumed in 12 hours. Twice a day the boats would pull up to an island or riverbank, and deckhands would be sent ashore to cut wood. Deck passengers often helped load the fuel on the boat, receiving a reduction in the price of their passage. When steamboats became more numerous on the Mississippi, many large, permanent wood yards were established. Sometimes a sort of "mid-stream service" was provided, in the form of a flatboat already loaded with wood. The steamboat would tie on to the flatboat and take it upstream, unloading without stopping its engines. When the wood was loaded, the flatboat could be cut loose to drift back down to the wood yard.

After you leave Hickman, just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee border, you will come to the Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Take a few minutes to stop in at the visitors' center, which has excellent exhibits on the great variety of flora and fauna that call Reelfoot Lake "home". The center also exhibits a Reelfoot "stumpjumper", a hand-honed wooden rowboats with innovative bow-facing oars and flat bottoms designed to handle the shallow waters of Reelfoot Lake. The little lakeside village of Samburg is an ideal place to spend the night, and the Pier Restaurant offers good country food overlooking the lake.

Take Note

Designation or identification of the Mississippi River Trail is not a guarantee that the route will be safe for all riders under all conditions. The Mississippi River Trail descriptions are intended at this point for use by experienced long-distance bicyclists. Users ride at their own risk, and understand that they will commonly be sharing the road with motorized vehicular traffic. No liability, expressed or implied, is assumed by Mississippi River Trail Inc. for any result occasioned by use of these descriptive documents.

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