The Lehigh Portland Trails is a trail system in Allen County, Kansas, consisting of both rail-trail-style gravel-surfaced trails and natural-surface trails for mountain biking, trail running, and nature hikes.
The Lehigh Portland Trails were built by volunteers with Thrive Allen County, via a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, on land owned by Iola Industries, Inc. through an easement granted to theSunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy, Inc. The trail’s name pays homage to Allen County’s industrial past and specifically to the Lehigh Portland Cement Company, which purchased the Iola Portland Cement Company in 1917 and operated a major plant in Iola until 1970.
While the Lehigh Portland Trails are not a traditional rail-trail project, the property’s railroad history is rich. The trail system is built on the remnants of four former railroad lines:
- The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (M-K-T) once ran east-west through Allen County, and a spur served the Lehigh Portland Cement plant. This is Iola’s “Katy Trail”! The MKT came to Iola in 1870, and served Iola until 1958.
- The Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac) also ran a spur to service the Lehigh Plant. The MoPac also ran east-west through Allen County, from 1881 until the mid 1970s.
- The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) ran north-south through Allen County, and a spur went to the Iola Brick and Tile factory (located along Elm Creek). This is the route followed by the connector trail that links the Lehigh Portland Trails with the Southwind Rail Trail. The Southwind (and the Prairie Spirit Trail) are built on the former AT&SF mainline. This line came to Iola in 1870 (as the LL&G — Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston), and ran through about 1990.
- The Iola Electric Railroad was a local commuter trolley line that served the Lehigh plant, as well as other industrial plants in the area. It crossed Elm Creek just east of Washington Avenue. The Iola Electric Railroad ran from 1901-1919.
Portions of the Backbone Trail run along the former MoPac route, and connect to the Southwind Rail Trail. The signature “Hegwald” bridge is located in place of an old railroad trestle.
Segments of the Creekside Trail run atop the old MKT and MoPac right-of-ways. The “Ol’ Katy Fishing Hole” is located at the site of the former MKT trestle across Elm Creek.
In addition to the trails, the property features 100+ acres of rugged woodlands, lively prairie, and scenic views of a lovely spring-fed quarry lake. The property also contains one of the few publicly-accessible caves in Kansas.
Learn more: LehighTrails.com