Cape LaCroix Recreational Trail Rings Cash Registers

[Editor’s note: I wrote this in 2008, but not much has changed.]

I’m visiting my mother in Cape Girardeau, MO, a Mississippi River town halfway between St. Louis and Memphis.

I get back here at least once a year to recharge my psychic batteries in an area that has real hills, real trees and real people, all of which are sometimes in short supply in SFL.

Cape LaCroix Creek in Cape Girardeau, Mo.Way back in the last century when I was a kid, Cape LaCroix Creek – known to locals as Three-Mile Creek – would overflow and flood homes and businesses every few years.

Got fed up with it

The Local Fathers got fed up with complaints from the wet folks and managed to scrape up enough money to make the creek run more efficiently and drain off the water before it spilled over its banks.

A side effect of that was the Cape LaCroix Recreational Trail, a 4.2-mile paved multiuse path, that was created next to the creek.

Cape Lacroix MapThe trail starts (or ends, depending on your perspective) just down the hill from the old homestead, so I ride it several times when I visit. It’s fun meeting folks and it’s a great way to get from the north end of town to the south end without climbing a bunch of hills.

Arguably the most-used park in town

I’ve never been on it without meeting tens of bikers, roller bladers, joggers, walkers, families with strollers and dog walkers. I’ve often thought that it’s the most-used park in town, particularly if you define “use” as “actively participate” and not just “spectate.” It attracts all ages and demographic groups.

Other paths I’ve ridden seem to attract mostly local users: elderly folks who do short exercise rides in the evening, kids going to their friends’ houses or (on the Withlacoochee) an old guy who would walk to the convenience store with a small shopping cart to pick up the week’s supply of beer. I assumed this trail would be the same, especially since it’s so short.

Trail draws users for miles around

Families from Farmington ride Cape LaCroix TrailThis afternoon I ran into a category of rider that local governments should take into consideration when people gripe about building public facilities like this one.

The first person I encountered was pulling a child’s trailer with a huge cooler and other stuff it in. When I got closer, I saw he had a toddler in a bike seat behind him. Up ahead was his wife with another toddler, a young girl and another adult couple.

They explained that they had driven to Cape from the Farmington, MO, area to ride the trail and have a picnic alongside it. Farmington is about an hour’s drive from Cape. Let’s review that: two families had loaded two cars with bicycles, snacks, toddlers as young as 18 months and driven close to 100 miles round trip so they could do a sub-10-mile bike ride because there weren’t any good facilities close at hand.

Kendra was afraid she'd lose weight if she rode her bike all the timeCash registers were going to ring

Oh, yeah, and while they were in Cape primarily to ride their bikes, they were also going to do some shopping.

[Editor’s note: I am horribly embarrassed to admit that I stuck a digital recorder under their noses and very carefully recorded every name so I could mention them. Unfortunately, Murphy was riding along with me and ate the info. The only name I can remember was 8-year-old Kendra who thought riding was “good excercise and a lot of fun, but I think it might make me lose too much weight.”]

The Cearneys drove 30 miles to ride the Cape LaCroix trail and shop in Cape GirardeauNot the only one

I would have thought they were an anomaly until I found the Cerneys who drove 30 miles from Illinois to ride the trail. The said that they had often seen riders on the trail when they came into Cape for shopping and they decided to bring their bikes along for a ride.

After giving their names, Mr. Cerney asked, “Don’t you want our ages?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I just didn’t think it was polite to ask.”

“I’m 72 and Jane is 71,” he said. (I should be drinking what they’re drinking.)

The Schroeders were riding their bikes to watch flag footballFinally, local riders

On the way back home, I ran into the Schroeders just as they were entering the Cape Woods Conservation Area on their way to the Osage Center to watch her brother play flag football. They thought they’d take their bikes since it was such a nice afternoon.

Well maintained

The Cape area has had several flash floods this year that put the trail under some raging waters. I was curious to see if there would still be debris, rocks and gravel across it. It was spotless. Part of the credit goes to the local bicycle club which conducts periodic cleanup sessions.

High water sign on Cape LaCroix TrailThis just goes to show that parks don’t have to have expensive lights and facilities to attract a large number of users, some from out of town with money to spend to bolster the local economy.

The only negative I can see is the local Letters to the Editor Yahoos who gripe, “Why are people riding their bikes in the street when we built them that nice bike path.”

Ernie Chiles Rides Bicycle Around Horseshoe Lake

Ernie Chiles,  Looking No Worse for Wear after His Bike RideCape Girardeau Central High School teacher Ernie Chiles 10/21/09

When I visited with Ernie last year, he mentioned that we should gear up to ride the Katy Trail, the longest Rails to Trails in the country. It’s 225 miles long, running from St. Charles in the east to Clinton in the west.

It’s been something on my to-do list for several years, but my mileage for the year was way down (about 700 miles) and he confessed that he hadn’t even hit three digits. A 225-mile ride didn’t sound like a good idea, particularly since the weather had turned wet and cold.

Horseshoe Lake was a compromise

I had seen some maps for this weekend’s Tour de Shawnee that showed an easy, flat ride around Horseshoe Lake near Olive Branch, IL, and some more challenging hilly routes north of there.

Cypress Trees at Horseshoe Lake in southern IllinoisI decided that the Horseshoe Lake ride would be scenic, with light traffic and leave us with the option of extending the ride if we wanted to.

It was a good choice. When we got back to the starting point, we debated going on, but decided that we’d rather quit wanting more than to add another 20 hard miles to the ride and wishing we had bailed early.

If you’re a bike geek, you might want to read THIS version, which includes a map.

If you don’t know who Ernie Chiles is, go to yesterday’s post.

Ernie Chiles and the Rock of the Month Club

Cape Girardeau Central High School teacher Ernie Chiles with his ham radio equipment Oct. 1963

Ernie Chiles was a student teacher in my freshman biology class. He was a quiet guy who didn’t make much of an impression at the time.

Next year, though, he had been hired to teach Earth Science, which was generally considered a Mickey Mouse class that anybody could pass.

By the luck of the draw, Jim Stone, George Cauble and I ended up in his class and achieved some kind of critical mass. We started an informal competition with Ernie. Our goal was to ace every one of his tests and his was to create tests that nobody could ace.

THAT played havoc with the grading curve

Ernie Chiles - Ken Steinhoff - Jim Stone Oct 1963The three of us would meet at my house the night before the tests and we’d practically memorize the text book and class notes. Ernie, for his part, would dig into obscure points to try to trip us up. If we missed a question, we’d do even more research to prove that we were right. At the 20th Reunion, I was still disputing a question that Ernie had marked wrong.

Ernie was a pilot and a ham

Ernie, who wasn’t more than a handful of years older than us, was a ham radio operator and a pilot. Before long we were hanging out at his house, going flying and doing stuff that teachers today would be afraid to do with their students.

He was Mr. Chiles in class and around other students, but he was “Ernie” when we were together. He was the first teacher I knew who had a first name and the first one I connected with as as a person, not just someone who taught a class.

I became a newspaperman because of him

First Missourian picture 04-18-63One of our flying expeditions turned out to be a life-changer for me. You can read about how I became a newspaper photographer because of it.

Pam T can comment on one of her flights with Ernie after this is published. He laughs about it today, saying, “I can just see the headline you would have written if the icing on the wings had gotten any worse, “Teacher, Students Die in Crash.”

I corrected him. I’d have written “CHS Teacher Kills Students.”

Ernie Taught me how to drive

Of course,  I crashed in the first 150 yards. Here’s the whole, sad, story.

Rock of the Month Club

When Jim Stone and I came back for the 20th Reunion, we stopped by to see Ernie. After all the business of catching up was over, Ernie looked at us and said, “OK, guys the statute of limitations has surely run out by now. Fess up.”

Jim and I looked at each other and asked, “Fess up to what?”

“Come on, you guys. I figured someone would leak it by now, but you’ve done a good job of keeping a secret. Just confess it was you who did it.”

Not a clue

“We don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” I said.

Bulldozer in Mexico MO 1942“One night I woke up to hear a loud noise outside my house. The next morning, there was this huge boulder in my front yard with a sign, ‘Welcome to the Rock of the Month Club.’ I knew Ken’s dad was in the construction business and he’d have access to heavy equipment, so you two HAD to have been involved.”

I looked at Jim. He looked at me. “We’d be proud to admit to it, but this is the first we’ve ever heard of the story. We’re innocent.”

Somewhere there’s a Central High School student who is great at keeping a secret.

Anybody want to step up?

Ernie’s getting up in age and I’m sure he’d love to know the whole story before he “goes West,” as pilots call it.

Tomorrow we’ll show you what Ernie looks like today. He and I took a bike ride around Horseshoe Lake on Tuesday.

I drove.

He tightened his seat belt.

He remembers that first driving lesson.

UPDATE: Ernie and I still fly together.

Cape Girardeau’s Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge

I loved the old bridge, don’t get me wrong. Going across that puppy was a rite of passage when you got your driver’s license.

Having said that, the new bridge is beautiful. I’ll post more stuff when I can get home and find my pix of the old bridge, but here are some shots of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at night.

View from near the Themis floodgate

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken near Themis flood gate

For any photo geeks, the picture was taken with a Nikon D-40 DSLR using an ISO of 200 and an exposure of 5 seconds at f/6.3.

There was a barge working its way upstream (note the light streaks) and I was hoping he would shine his spotlight my way to make an interesting light streak. He was, however, more intent on finding channel markers along the east bank than improving my picture. Click on the image to bring up a larger version.

Views from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old bridge overlook

These two pictures were shot at about the same time. The only real difference is that I zoomed out to get both spans in the second picture.

I was hoping to pick up some light streaks from vehicles on the bridge, but traffic was light and there was a cold drizzle tricking down my neck. My working philosophy dictated that I wasn’t required to go hungry, get wet or lift heavy objects.

Why would I want to work any harder to produce a blog?

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Couple watching river flow by

Couple watching Mississippi River flow by Cape Girardeau

I was too lazy to set up the tripod for this picture, so I hand-held it at at about one second. That’s why the guy is a little blurry from movement.

Editor’s note

This is far from the final look of this site. The WordPress template that Son Matt picked is different than the one used by my other blog,, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve associated with dealing with a graphics-heavy one like this.

I’m going to be in Cape a few more days shooting new pictures to go along with old ones I’m sure are in the file. After that, I suspect it’ll take me at least a couple of months to get everything organized, scrutinized and digitized. (The only “ized” I haven’t figured out is the monetized one. Maybe I should draft some of the old Girardot and Tiger business staffers to go out and sell ads for me.)

My old earth science teacher, Ernie Chiles, and I are going for a bicycle ride Wednesday. Thursday I’m going over to the old Central High School to see what it looks like after being converted to a junior high school.