Grant’s Trail, a look back
Great Rivers Greenway is weeks away from completing an extension of Grant’s Trail linking it to the River Des Peres Greenway. The completion of this important connection is a chance to look back at Trailnet’s history with this fixture of St. Louis biking and walking.
Over the years Trailnet members have supported the core mission that led to Grant’s Trail and our work to advance biking and walking access and connections throughout the community.
This vital space for safe biking and walking was made possible by the dedicated work and efforts of Trailnet members, volunteers, and supporters over the years.
From the initial purchase, to its role in the lives of thousands of visitors every year, here’s a brief history of Grant’s Trail.
In 1992, Trailnet purchased a 6.2 mile stretch of the Union Pacific Railroad, to convert it to a multi-use trail. This 100-foot wide corridor of land stretched from Hoffmeister Avenue in South St. Louis County near I-55 to Pardee Road in Crestwood.
This was part of a nation-wide rails-to-trails movement to convert disused railway lines into trails for biking and walking.
All the way to the supreme court
In 1993 – as plans for the trail developed – the municipality, Grantwood Village sued to stop the construction, claiming the original land transfer to the railroad was improper. This case advanced to a Federal appeals court that ruled in Trailnet’s favor. Grantwood Village then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which rejected the challenge, maintaining the lower court’s ruling paving the way for construction to begin.
Paving and landscaping on the trail began in 1994 with a $500,000 federal grant.
In 1997, the first four miles were completed with funding from the federal government and St. Louis County between Orlando Gardens to Tesshire Road. That same year, Trailnet entered into a 99 year lease with St. Louis County, for the county to operate the trail under the parks department.
In 2000, Trailnet purchased an additional 2 miles of former rail line from Tesshire Road to Pardee Road. St. Louis County then paved the new stretch with a combination of county and federal funding.
Prop C and Great Rivers Greenway
In 2000, Trailnet and other advocates successfully pushed for a ballot initiative creating a one-tenth-of-one-cent sales tax to finance the construction of greenway trails in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. This became Great Rivers Greenway, a public agency tasked with the planning and execution of a network of greenways connecting the region.
With the creation of a GRG and a steady stream of public funding dedicated to building greenways, Trailnet’s work shifted from building trails to focus on advocacy, education, community planning and engagement as a way to improve biking and walking in the region.
In 2006, Great Rivers Greenway completed a 2 mile extension on the western end of Gravois Greenway: Grant’s Trail across I-44, bringing it to a new trailhead at S. Holmes St. and Leffingwell Ave. in Kirkwood.”
Grant’s history and legacy
Grant’s Trail passes by Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site and his home White Haven, and the trail crosses land owned by Grant. Grant, served as a U.S. president and commanding general of the union army during the Civil War.
At a time when America and the St. Louis region are grappling with the effects of racism and slavery, Grant’s legacy and the history of this property is important to note.
Despite Grant’s efforts to combat white terror groups like the Klu Klux Klan and support the rights of Black southerners after the war, he was the last U.S. president to own a person as a slave. Grant’s wife’s family built their wealth through the labor of enslaved people and the property which eventually became Grant’s Trail and Grant’s Farm was a plantation that relied on the labor of enslaved people, which Grant oversaw.
As president, Grant also illegally began a war against the Lakota people, seizing land promised to Native Americans.
Reviewing the history of Grant’s Trail, it is important to acknowledge both Grant’s role fighting the confederacy and supporting formerly enslaved people, as wells as his own profiting from slavery and his actions harming Native Americans. These factors need to be acknowledged, understood, and held in tension with each other.
Future of Grant’s Trail
Today, Grant’s Trail is a vital space for people to safely walk, bike, roll. It has showcased the desire for safe, car-free spaces and has been a model for much of the growth in trails and greenways across the region.
The final bridge linking Grant’s Trail and the River Des Peres Greenway is weeks away from completion. This will undoubtedly bring more people, connect more neighborhoods, and show the importance of connected, healthy, and sustainable mobility throughout the region.
As an organization we are proud of the hand we played in the creation of Grant’s Trail. We are grateful for the dedicated support of our members and volunteers who helped see it through and appreciate the work of our partners to advance it to its place in the community today.
Most of all, we are thankful for the people who use it every day.