Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors walk, run, bike or skate Katy Trail’s 3.5 miles of beautifully maintained path that cuts through the Uptown neighborhood of Dallas and connects Victory Park to Highland Park and now extends to connect with Knox Street to the north tip of White Rock Lake.
The main trail consists of a 12-foot-wide concrete path with a smaller parallel trail made of soft rubber material that is reserved for pedestrians only. The Katy Trail has overhead lighting and many access points, plazas and lookout areas, as well as mile markers and water fountains for both people and puppies. A City of Dallas park, the Katy Trail maintains regular park hours of 5 a.m. to midnight. The Katy Trail is also host to many popular races and events, including the Katy 5K, which is run every summer, and Carry the Load, a two-day event to honor American service members.
Looking at the beautiful Katy Trail today, it’s hard to imagine that more than 100 years ago, it was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line, which was established in 1865 during the Reconstruction era. The first railroad to enter Texas from the north became known as the K-T, or Katy, for short. The company operated hundreds of miles of rail line in Texas, hauling cotton products, livestock and produce, as well as providing passenger and mail service. The Texas Special, the Bluebonnet and the Katy Flyer were names of early passenger trains.
The Katy was considered a pioneer in rail car service in a time before WWII, when passengers could board a Pullman “palace car” at the Denison station and ride straight through to Chicago. The Katy had a dining car service unsurpassed by others, where passengers were served pure Mountain Valley spring water and “cornettes” (little cornbread muffins), and received complimentary apples attendants passed out at the end of the night. The company also boasted the largest cars, around 80 feet in length. Up to and during World War II the railway prospered, but declined in the following decades.
On August 12, 1988, the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac) and its owner, Union Pacific Corporation, purchased the Katy with approval from the Interstate Commerce Commission. On December 1, 1989, the Katy was merged into the MoPac, which is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad system. Through the company’s "rails to trails" program, Union Pacific donated a 3.5-mile-long stretch of rail in downtown Dallas to the city in 1993.
The initial plan was to perhaps turn the tracks into a DART line. However, local businesses and individuals lobbied for an urban park instead, and in 2000, construction began on the Katy Trail. The local community started Friends of the Katy Trail, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and with the generous support of neighbors, has ensured the care and maintenance of the park.
And now, a $22.2 million project known as the Hi Line Connector, a complicated one-mile link running the Katy Trail in downtown Dallas from east of Interstate 35E to the Trinity River side, connecting Victory Park to the Design District and Trinity River, may soon become a reality. A 10-year project called The Loop began in 2016 to combine 39 miles of existing trails with 11 miles of new trails to create a full 80-mile circle. Joining the Katy Trail to the Trinity Strand Trail is part of closing that Loop.
From railroad tracks and railroad cars to bike and hike trails surrounding the city, the Katy Trail is an important link to closing the loop on over a hundred years of history, both lasts and firsts.