A study by the University of Missouri Extension calls for the state to accept a donation of land and eventually complete the Rock Island Trail.
The 144 miles of former railroad line would span from Windsor, Missouri, in the western part of the state to Beaufort in Franklin County, adding to the current hiking and biking trail. The trail would connect Kansas City and St. Louis.
The study was commissioned by Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc. The report concluded that “Missouri has an opportunity to do something extraordinary, something that will have long term positive impacts on the state for generations.”
The study cited public support, opportunities for economic development, and the project’s alignment with the existing goals of the Missouri State Parks division outdoor recreation plans as the main reasons to complete the trail.
Trail advocates hailed the study as further proof the project should move forward. Greg Harris, president of Missouri Rock Island Trail, said there is evidence that recreational trails mean solid economic development for small towns.
“In Windsor, when the completed segment of the Rock Island trail met up with the Katy Trail, nine small businesses started up within two years,” Harris said.
He expects those results to be duplicated if the trail is completed.
“Over 20 percent of the 144 miles are in the city limits of towns, where they go alongside a highway and next to restaurants, through commercial districts, and through neighborhoods,” Harris said. “They are certainly off the beaten path. So that would make a big difference to all of these towns, because they are very small, and it would make a big impact to have a few new businesses.”
The report also cited Missouri State Parks’ Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan which listed walking, hiking and biking as the three biggest forms of outdoor recreation in the state.
“If you can provide those kinds of opportunities, especially in rural areas where they don’t have those opportunities, especially where there are no state parks, it’s a real win-win for everybody,” Harris said.
But Missouri State Parks has not embraced the idea.
Deputy Director Mike Sutherland told attendees of a public hearing on the trail earlier this month that the donation of the land from utility company Ameren is “not really a gift, it’s more of a responsibility.”
Sutherland estimated it will cost $6,494 per mile per year to maintain the trail, a total of $935,136.
“The adjoining communities will have to support and accept the plan before the state park system decides to get on board,” Sutherland said.
Harris said the effort to get financial support from communities is underway, but securing those commitments is difficult because the state hasn’t accepted the land. He also said that completion of the trail doesn’t have to happen all at once, but there is a deadline for the state to accept the donation from Ameren.
The Surface Transportation Board, the federal authority that oversees rail lines, has given the state until Feb. 21, 2019 to accept the donation of land. Otherwise, the project could be halted.
Missouri State Parks is accepting public comment on the Rock Island Trail proposal through the end of November.
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