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Trail celebrates 25th anniversary

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Runner Kelly Redies heads north through the rain during the 2019 Hope Run, which took place on the Frisco Highline Trail on Saturday, May 11. 

Train whistles no longer sound along the 35-mile Frisco Rail line between Springfield and Bolivar. They’ve long been replaced by birds chirping. 

Steam-driven wheels no longer chug along steel rails. They’ve been replaced by the footfalls of joggers with strollers and chains of bicycles humming over the stretch of crushed limestone that has now been converted into the non-motorized Frisco Highline Trail. 

“It’s a beautiful ride, and it’s a big asset for the community,” Bolivar trail user Laurie Ball said. 

The organization behind the trail — Ozark Greenways — will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the corridor this fall, marking the August 1994 date when it received the deed for the inactive rail line with a 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, ceremony at the Willard trailhead. 

Train service to Bolivar ended in 1993 after 109 years of service, according to previous BH-FP coverage, and the trail was built over the course of 11 years.

Ozark Greenways was able to sell materials left by the railroad to make an initial acquisition, connecting 30 miles of corridor, 404 acres, 101 neighbors and 16 historic bridges, according to a news release from the organization.

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Construction crews work on the initial railroad bridge over the Sac River in this photo from the 1880s. 

State and federal dollars were used for the first 11 miles of trail between Willard and Bolivar, the release stated. In the following years, the organization acquired and developed the section from Springfield to Willard and completed the remaining 18 miles of trail from the Greene/Polk County line to Bolivar, the release stated.

“Time flies, and our FHT has matured into a trail we are very proud of, creating connections with folks all over the world and making a few dreams come true along the way,” trail manager John Montgomery said in the release.

A group of mayors from the five towns connected by the trail met in 2005 to commemorate its completion, including former Bolivar mayor, the late Charles Ealy, who was a proponent of the trail, according to previous BH-FP coverage.

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The bridge over the Little Sac River is one of 16 crossed by the Frisco Highline Trail.

"It's going to be an exciting thing," Ealy told the BH-FP in 2005. "This is the second longest Rails to Trails project in Missouri behind the Katy Trail. They have a lot of tourists, and I am expecting that to happen in Bolivar, too."

Mick Mpofu, the city’s MS4 coordinator, said the excitement has continued rolling 25 years later.

“Bolivar is proud to be part of the Frisco Highline,” Mpofu said in an email. 

According to the release, fundraising supports the trail, including 2016 improvements to the Willard trailhead and better signage, mile markers, rest stops and educational kiosks throughout. 

“The trail continues to enhance the economic vitality of these communities, along with providing regional connectivity and recreation for the area,” the release stated. 

Ball said she’s seen it firsthand, passing other trail users on several of the routes she has drawn out between its connected waypoints.

“It brings people here,” she said. “People just enjoy being on it. That is one huge draw to Bolivar.”

Ozark Greenways will host a trail workday in Polk County next month, focusing on cleaning up litter, removing deadfall from the trail and cutting low hanging branches. Volunteers should meet at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at the trailhead at 800 E. Jackson St., Montgomery previously told the BH-FP. 

Mpofu said corporate sponsors can provide food or financial support or even volunteer to help with the cleanup. Call 912-0246 or email mmpofu@bolivar.mo.us.

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The sun sets over La Petite Gemme Prairie nature preserve as seen from the Frisco Highline Trail on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

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