Trail Report Week 15 Route 66 State Park

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Located less than 20 miles Southwest of Saint Louis, Missouri, Route 66 State Park offers hikers and Bikers a chance to travel a piece of genuine Americana, but the park belies a profoundly controversial past that creates a deep political chasm even today. 

Before the days of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, the primary route between Chicago and Los Angeles was Route 66. In the early to mid part of the twentieth century, as more and more Americans were able to purchase an automobile, the route became a popular motor destination. Cafes, Motels, and oddly eclectic roadside attractions dotted the passageway. Like their ancestors before a new western migration brought travelers from all throughout the nation. As new and more modern Interstate highways were constructed in the 1950’s the route fell by the wayside. Much of the Route was demolished, but bits and pieces of the famed road still exist. The Route 66 State Park near Eureka, Missouri offers a unique opportunity to hike and bike on a segment of the now lost highway.

This is one of the newest and most improbable of all of Missouri’s State Parks. Before 1985, the land on and adjacent to the old Route 66 Highway was part of a town named Times Beach, Missouri.  Times Beach was a popular weekend destination for nearby Saint Louis due to the city’s location next to the Meremac River. The town had cabins for rent and offered boating, swimming, and fishing at the river. This all came to an abrupt and tragic halt when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered levels of the highly toxic pesticide Dioxin in the ground and water at Times Beach. The levels were over 300 times greater than what was acceptable for human habitation. The standards were so toxic the entire city of 2,000 had to be evacuated at a cost to the federal government of almost 40 million dollars. The EPA built an incinerator to burn all the contaminated soil and homes and personal property at an additional cost of over 200 million dollars.

The Dioxin had originated from a contractor who had mixed Dioxin with asphalt on the roads for the city. Dioxin is a powerful herbicide and mingling with the asphalt helped prevent plants from sprouting in cracks in the streets. The residents of Times Beach spent years in litigation trying to resolve their class-action lawsuits and civil charges.

After the EPA determined that the Dioxin had now been mostly eliminated or at least to an acceptable level, the state which had been forced to purchase the land around Times Beach decided to turn the area into a State Park and chose to highlight the section of the old Route 66 Highway as the raison d’etre of the Park. And to use a little more out of place french Viola! The Route 66 State Park was born.

I actually knew of the story of Times Beach beforehand but didn’t know that the Route 66 Park was on the old Times beach grounds until after visiting.
The only surviving building from Times Beach is the Park Visitor Center which was a former Roadhouse

The Visitor Center has both Memorabilia from Route 66 as well as the former Times Beach

The Park has several trails including an inner and outer ring trail that are both about three miles in length. One of the paths is on the old Route 66 Highway while another runs along the beautiful Meremac River.


This path is on the decommissioned Route 66 and is a great bicycle path

r6                           The former Mermemac River bridge from Route 66


There’s something oddly artistic about the Bridge


The Bridge as seen from the Meremac River


The trail offers a chance for some surprises
Both paved and unpaved trails are available
Another popular attraction in the area are the numerous caverns. Many which are still popular today.

The Park is located on Interstate 44 near Eureka, Missouri. The area is also a couple miles from Six Flags a very popular Theme Park.

Pros: Some very nice paved trails, trails are mostly flat and easy to hike, The trails around the river are especially scenic. A chance to hike or ride your bike on a piece of authentic American history. 

Cons: Sorry, to be the cynic, but how much do you trust the government? They said the levels were not toxic for a while before being forced to change their story.  It’s been a while and they did clean the area up so you are probably safe though. Probably. 

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