Feature Photo: Cathie Schoppenhorst manning the counter at the Peers Store
By Karen Cernich
Walks on the Katy Trail Offer New Sights, Experiences Every Day
Nearly the only thing that keeps Cathie Schoppenhorst off the Katy Trail these days is a downpour of rain. Cold weather? She bundles up. Sloppy trail conditions? She finds a path where the gravel is higher. She generally walks around 3 miles each day, although some days she walks 5. It’s something she began last March when the COVID-19 pandemic began canceling activities everywhere. Now it’s a habit that not only brings her both physical and emotional fulfillment, it feeds the educator and historian in her. Although she walks the same sections of the Trail many days, she often sees and experiences something new each time.
“One of the things that’s really interesting is watching the seasons change and watching the crops grow,” Cathie said.
Last fall as she walked the trail, she began picking up different types of acorns that had fallen from the various trees. As one of the shopkeepers at Peers Store, she’s always looking for tangible ways to pique the interest of people who come in off the trail. “The acorns are a wonderful way to interact with kids,” she remarked.
One acorn that has eluded her so far is from a Chinkapin oak tree. She remembers when Missouri’s Champion (the largest specimen of its species) Chinkapin Oak was growing in this area along Highway 94 and would love to have an acorn to represent that history.
Cathie doesn’t have any formal training as a historian, but it’s her passion and her hands-on experience has provided deep knowledge of the area’s people, places and events. After leaving a 16-year career in social services, Cathie has worked at the Daniel Boone Home in Defiance as a historic interpreter/tour guide; after researching her husband’s family’s genealogy, she got involved with the Warren County Historical Society and briefly served as its curator; and before Boone Monument Village became an event venue, she led historical re-enactments and gave tours of the property.
Now she spends her weekends (spring, summer and fall) manning the Peers Store, where she interacts with people coming in off the trail, answering their questions and providing information on history and conservation, if they show an interest.
“The people who come in off the trail are often looking for a snack, something to drink, maybe a bathroom,” said Cathie. “They are thrilled that any place allows them to use the bathroom. Most businesses don’t. But we say, ‘You’re welcome to use our bathroom. You’re welcome to fill up your (water) pack in our kitchen sink, if you want to.’ People have used the hose on the side of the building to spray the mud off their bikes.”
Talking with trail users and hearing their stories is Cathie’s favorite part of the job. She strikes up conversations with trail users, who come here from all over the world, by asking how far they are going or where they may have started, and she often hears a range of answers.
“If they are heading West, I tell them to be sure to stop in Treloar to see the Big Ear of Corn, and now we have the Trees of Treloar,” she said. “If they are heading east, I like to talk about La Charette, because they are crossing the La Charette Creek Bridge, which is pretty significant on the trail. I’ll tell them how Lewis and Clark slept here twice, how Gottfried Duden lived here and that led to the huge German migration here.”
If trail users show an interest, Cathie tells them about the Peers Prairie out in front of the store, the Trees of Treloar at the Treloar Trailhead, and voluntary conservation easements to protect their land for farming, forestry and recreation.
Some days the traffic in the store is steady. Other days, she may only see three or four people. But there hasn’t been a day go by that she doesn’t see at least one or two trail users come in.
Peers Store will reopen for the season Saturday, March 27. It will be open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and other days by chance through Halloween, Sunday, October 31. Look for the Open signs at the trail and at Highway 94. Local bluegrass bands will play live music every Saturday and Sunday beginning May 15.