Rock Island Trail Update December 4, 2017
Missouri’s long quest to acquire the Rock Island Trail corridor is nearing the final decision. In 1999, Missouri applied for a 197 mile segment from Kansas City to Owensville. Instead, Union Pacific and Missouri Central Railroad (wholly owned by Ameren) each secured segments from KC to St. Louis. In 2012, Ameren transferred ownership of the 47 mile corridor from Pleasant Hill to Windsor to the State of Missouri. That became a new leg of Katy Trail State Park in December, 2016, connecting greater KC to STL. While the first 199 miles of the Katy Trail corridor had to be purchased (Edward Jones Investments founder Ted Jones gave the $200,000 in the late 1980’s) Ameren is donating the next 144 miles. The two year salvage to Beaufort is nearly completed. The rails and ties are removed and the gravelly surface is being graded. The Surface Transportation Board deadline to sign an agreement to “rail-bank” the former railroad corridor for potential future use is February 21, 2018.
Missouri State Parks is doing a final study and seeking additional public comment before proceeding. The 8,685 overwhelmingly positive comments can be read at https://mostateparks.com/rockislandlinecorridor. Eight of the nine letters are enthusiastically supportive, including from the cities of Springfield, Rolla, Chesterfield, Owensville and Warsaw. Two area planning commissions wrote letters of support: The Spirit Trail Coalition/Johnson County Planning Commission and Kaysinger Basin Planning Commissions. The letter by Adventure Cycling noted the trail’s international significance and major impact on tourism.
The 240 mile Katy Trail State Park has been highly successful since its opening in 1990. A 2012 study documented 400,000 annual users and a direct economic impact of more than $18 million per year https://mostateparks.com/sites/mostateparks/files/Katy_Trail_Economic_Impact_Report_Final.pdf . The first 47 mile segment of the Rock Island Trail put the former railroad towns of Pleasant Hill, Chilhowee, Leeton and Windsor on a high traffic trail. Two trails now go all the way from greater KC to STL. Towns benefit as users buy food frequently and stay overnight http://www.joplinglobe.com/news/lifestyles/andy-ostmeyer-rock-island-rocks-windsor/article_3fc6d78b-45f7-514d-9bb6-fd7cece53a1a.html .
Adding the next 144 miles will create a world-class loop that includes Kansas City and St. Louis. It fills a long gap where there are no state parks https://mostateparks.com/page/57778/locator-map and connects KC to Missouri’s largest state park at Lake of the Ozarks. The new major trail experience will be distinct from the Katy by its varied topography and by adding 20 more towns that already have services needed by trail users. Short distances between the Katy and Rock Island trails at Sedalia, Jefferson City, Hermann and Washington will enable users to do shorter loops and allow sharing of equipment and personnel between the trails.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce notes significant economic growth in communities along the first 47 miles
https://mobizmagazine.com/2017/08/17/plans-for-rock-island-bike-path-prompt-small-town-entrepreneurship/ . Ranchers between towns say they find it easy to move cattle across the trail through specially designed gates. New businesses with trail names are springing up in the next 144 miles: Rock Island Village in Eldon, Rock Island Marketplace in Owensville, Rock Island Trail Retreat in Gerald and Rock Island Station in Beaufort.
The trail will provide a safe, non-motorized alternative to an estimated 90 miles of parallel highways between towns. 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. Horses and buggies may be allowed on the trail in the Versailles area where Groffdale Conference Mennonites now try to share the two-lane Highway 52 with motorists.
The Kansas City trail network will be further connected when 18 miles of trail from Lee’s Summit to I-70 is added in 2019 http://fox4kc.com/2017/03/06/18-mile-trail-coming-to-east-side-of-kc/ . 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. Amtrack offers several easy one-way shuttles along the Katy https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard .
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.
The most challenging engineering and construction for this trail were done in 1900-04. Tunnels 2-5 football fields long pass under Eugene and Freeburg, and near Meta. Spectacular bridges traverse the Gasconade, Osage and Maries rivers https://vimeo.com/203368673 https://vimeo.com/238664842 The Katy/Rock trail network is internationally significant http://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2016/december/05/missouris-rock-island-trail-state-park/ . An estimated 30 miles of the next 144 are within the city limits of 20 historic railroad towns where residents will use it daily. Tourists will appreciate the many stores, restaurants, motels and campgrounds in sight of the trail in towns spaced every ten miles. Versailles, Eldon and Owensville each have a Walmart.
A Safe Route to School will be created by the trail at Owensville. Their schools are east of 45 mph Highway 19 and the town is mostly to the west, so students have not been allowed to walk or bicycle to school. The trail will pass under Highway 19 and provide a safe alternative to Highway 28 from as far away as Gerald, 10 miles east.
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. The 48 place Rock Island Village senior living facility opened 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 and near its community center.
The Surface Transportation Board has no definition of what a trail must be nor do they require a timetable for development. The City of Belle has already secured funding to build more than a mile of trail when Missouri State Parks approves acceptance of the 144 mile corridor. Belle plans to renovate its former MFA as a welcome center, with wraparound decking and other inviting spaces. Owensville, Versailles and Eldon want to partner on maintenance and development of the three miles within each of their city limits. More communities will follow.
A 20:1 return on investment is expected from adding another 144 miles to the Rock Island Trail, but businesses get most of that revenue, not Missouri State Parks. They are challenged to do more and only get an increased 1/20 of 1% sales tax https://mostateparks.com/page/55069/parks-soils-and-water-sales-tax . The answer is to be more creative about partnerships with communities, individuals and philanthropists. Accepting the corridor is the first, necessary step, with further development happening as fast as funding allows. Accelerating development of the trail is the mission of Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc.
Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Join online at www.rockislandtrail.org . Greg Harris, Executive Director, Missouri Rock Island Trail 573-202-9632 and firstname.lastname@example.org .