In a recent Times column, Jim McKinney suggested relieving that pent-up feeling of pandemic isolation by “a visit to the river.”
Most days, I like to walk the short trail at Bill Cody Park, circling it several times. Though small, this park is truly a gem. For days, a pair of raptors recently took turns sitting on a nest high above the trail’s circuit. They were fun to watch as they exchanged duties but are gone now. Presumably, the eggs hatched and the hatchlings flew.
As the smaller park trail has grown crowded, the advice to visit the riverfront sounded tempting. And it proved as good as it sounded.
The Union Pacific Railroad adds to the lure. Why? Historian Dee Brown’s “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow” provides an answer. A great story and an important one, it relates the opening of the West by rail through tales of its investors, heroes and scoundrels.
Along the river track, mixed freights dominate with an occasional dedicated one, usually covered hoppers hauling last year’s harvest.
Right now, the “Mighty Mo” flows quite swiftly. Upstream, water is being released from reservoirs hoping to prevent severe flooding later as mountain snows melt. Lewis and Clark and crew would be hard pressed to make any headway whatsoever against today’s current. Its progress is not tumultuous, but it is deceptively strong. Venturing into the Missouri in any fashion could prove chancy. And it’s still snowing in the mountains.
Yet this broad river fascinates. After all, 2.25 centuries ago, it was the interstate highway system of the West. Even then, to pull their craft against the river’s current required real effort. In “Undaunted Courage,” author Stephen Ambrose notes that because of the lack of carbohydrates in their diets, each of the men pulling the expedition’s keelboat and pirogues upstream ate up to 14 pounds of meat daily. The hunters who provided these rations surely kept busy.
Eagles soar over both sides of the Missouri in an incredible display of their mastery of flight. With minimal movements of feathers, they rarely ever flap their wings. It’s such a show they put on as they ride air currents, gloriously dipping, rising and soaring.
From the riverfront, a broad concrete trail runs along Three-Mile Creek from the river to Haymarket Square. It proves to be an easy walk with water tumbling boisterously. Though not particularly scenic, the trail runs under all the streets from Second to Seventh where it emerges and crosses the bridge into the open-air market. This walk provides an interesting aspect of the Union’s oldest city west of the river.
From the eastern end of the trail across the tracks from the Riverfront Community Center, a walk along the river then to Haymarket and return is likely three miles. It promises and delivers an alternate view of Leavenworth and a good hour of exercise. Venturing it will not prove a disappointment. You may even want to take gloves and a litter bag to enhance the walk for other wanderers.
Walt Mack is a history buff and lives in Leavenworth.