Rock Island Trail Update from the Executive Director
Rock Island Trail Update
June 1, 2017
The first 47 miles of the Rock Island Trail opened on December 10, 2016 connecting the 240 mile Katy Trail at Windsor to greater Kansas City. Nearby, the Jackson County Regional Rail Coalition is adding 18 miles of trail from Lee’s Summit to I-70 http://fox4kc.com/2017/03/06/18-mile-trail-coming-to-east-side-of-kc/ . Pleasant Hill, Chilhowee, Leeton, and Windsor are already getting increased visitors and revenues from the new trail, plus a spike in lodging reservations from all over the world. In 2015, Ameren agreed to donate the next 144 miles to the State of Missouri under the Rails-To-Trails laws. The transfer is to be in late 2017 after completion of the salvage of the rails and ties.
An estimated 30 miles of the next 144 are within the city limits of 20 former railroad towns, including Versailles, Eldon, Owensville and Gerald. Tunnels 2-5 football fields long pass under Eugene and Freeburg, and near Meta. The salvaged rail corridor resembles a gravel/dirt road that is relatively flat, regardless of the terrain. Improvements to the Katy Trail standard can be made as fast public and private funding allows. The spectacular bridges over the Gasconade, Osage and Maries rivers are good candidates for naming by philanthropists or businesses interested in promoting economic development, tourism, health and wellness, or conservation. The Rock Island Trail’s role as an internationally significant tourism destination is explained at http://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2016/december/05/missouris-rock-island-trail-state-park/ .
Economic development and improved quality of life are motivators to the Rock Island Trail towns. The https://mostateparks.com/sites/mostateparks/files/Katy_Trail_Economic_Impact_Report_Final.pdf details the Katy Trail’s 400,000 annual users and economic impact of more than $18 million. The Rock Island goes through the middle of towns so it will have greater daily usage and economic impact per mile. Residents will use it daily for transportation and recreation. Improved quality of life will be positive for business development. New businesses are springing up like Rock Island Village in Eldon and Rock Island Trail Retreat in Gerald.
The Katy/Rock Island Trail system will be an internationally recognized loop. Travelers on the Katy Trail marvel at the Missouri River and enjoy the heritage of communities like Augusta and Hermann. The Rock Island Trail adds new features with spectacular bridges https://vimeo.com/203368673 and tunnels 2-5 football fields long. Several loops will be possible from Kansas City and St. Louis. Amtrack offers several easy one-way shuttles along the Katy https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard . Stores and restaurants in sight from the Rock Island are open most days, not just seasonally or on weekends.
Transportation safety and efficiency will improve on highways where the adjacent trail will provide an attractive alternative for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians. Examples include the 56 miles paralleling Highway 52 from Windsor to Eldon and the 33 miles along highways 28 and 50 from Belle to Beaufort. Planners are considering allowing horses and buggies on the trail in the Versailles area. Groffdale Conference Mennonites now share the two-lane Highway 52 at 5-10 mph with motorists preferring 55 or 60 mph.
Families and youth groups enjoy day trips and bicycle touring where it is safe and accessible. Kansas City area Boy Scout troops are taking multi-day bike trips on the Rock Island and Katy trails. Four towns in the first 47 miles offer dining and camping. It is 28 miles from Pleasant Hill to Chilhowee, 9 more to Leeton, then another 10 to Windsor and the Katy. Windsor has restaurants, a motel, other lodging, and camping.
A Safe Route to School will be created by the trail at Owensville. Their schools are just east of Highway 19 and the town is mostly to the west, so students are not allowed to walk or bicycle to school for safety reasons. That will change as the completed trail will pass under Highway 19. The trail will also provide a safe alternative to Highway 28 for students traveling to school from many miles to the east.
Rural health and childhood obesity rates improve where residents have safe places to walk and bicycle.Rail-trails are flat, so they encourage activity even for those with weight or mobility issues.
The City of Belle is building more than a mile of trail in 2017 to the specifications of MO State Parks. Construction was sped up a year or more after MoRIT helped the City of Belle and Ameren broker a special agreement to transfer interim responsibility for the segment to the city. Belle plans to renovate its former MFA as a welcome center, with wraparound decking and other inviting spaces.
Eldon’s future is being shaped by its 3 miles of corridor through their city limits. Lake Regional Health Center expanded its outpatient care facility next to the trail. A 48 bed senior living center, Rock Island Village, opens in August. Both take advantage of the trail as a new community asset for transportation, recreation and exercise for their clients. A donor with local ties has given Eldon $150,000 in matching money to rebuild a former railroad depot as a welcome center, museum and offices for their Chamber of Commerce. It will be at the front door of downtown Eldon near its community center.
Kansas City’s Jackson County has purchased 17.7 miles of former Rock Island Railroad corridor from the Truman Sports Complex on I-70 through Raytown and Lee’s Summit. Its trail will open by 2019, with longer term goals of adding commuter rail and/or buses. Area communities are working on alternative routes for the 4-5 mile “Greenwood Gap” where there is no rail corridor available from Lee’s Summit to Pleasant Hill. See http://www.jacksongov.org/776/Rock-Island-Rail-Corridor-Authority .
In St. Louis, http://greatriversgreenway.org/ and http://trailnet.org/ are eager for the Rock Island Trail to approach their regional trail network. The Katy Trail is just a few miles away at Washington, where the new Highway 47 Bridge over the Missouri River will be bike-friendly in late 2018. Further east on the Katy Trail, the Highway 64-40 Boone Bridge connecting to Chesterfield Bottoms is already bike-friendly.
Springfield wants to connect their 35 mile http://www.friscohighlinetrail.org/ ending at Bolivar to the Rock Island Trail. The route will include Warsaw, connecting its trail system to the Rock Island Trail at Cole Camp. Jefferson City is discussing connections between the Katy and Rock Island Trails at Eugene or Eldon.
Nearly 5,000 people follow https://www.facebook.com/morockislandtrail/ and 20+ are added each week. Followers are nearly 50/50 male-female. Nearly half (49%) are ages 35-54, 18% are 55-64, 9% are 65+.
Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit coalition of citizens and communities dedicated to preserving the Rock Island corridor as a linear park. Join online at www.rockislandtrail.org .
Greg Harris, Executive Director, Missouri Rock Island Trail 573-202-9632 and email@example.com .