The trail along Rock Island Railway got a needed makeover as crews worked to clear excess brush

Lake Sun

Every community hopes to create a niche for itself in the world of economic development, and Eldon may have done just that when community leaders moved forward with plans to create a recreational trail along the Rock Island Railway.

The first phase of the project is near its end as ten members of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) are almost finished with clearing brush along a 1.7-mile stretch of abandoned railway east of the Rock Island Railway Park.

The team members, under the direction of team leader Scott Ferrier, have taken advantage of nearly perfect fall weather to clear brush. As team members pull the brush to a tire-track dirt road that runs parallel to the tracks, crews from city of Eldon haul it away.

The Lake of the Ozarks Local Council of Governments is helping the Eldon community with negotiations and construction of the trail. Mac McNally, LOCLG regional planner, has worked with a trail task force to turn the overgrown right-of-way into a community asset and economic development tool.

“This has been an almost two-year effort,” McNally said in an interview earlier this fall. “Now we can move ahead and begin to develop what will be a huge asset for the Eldon community.”

McNally said the three-mile trail project began as part of an economic development effort to attract business and industry to Eldon. Businesses relocating to new communities are often interested in available recreation opportunities as a value for their employees, he explained.

Eldon Mayor Ron Bly has said the trail will be a benefit to the entire Eldon community, providing recreational opportunities, beautifying the right of way through town and giving city officials an economic development tool.

The Eldon right of way is part of the larger Rock Island rail line that runs 245 miles from Maryland Heights near St. Louis to Pleasant Hill near Kansas City. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is currently building a 42-mile trail on the right-of-way between Windsor and Pleasant Hill that will connect to the cross-state Katy Trail. Federal Rails to Trails legislation allows for conversion of unused railroad right of ways to recreation use. Such corridors could revert to rail use in the future.

Ameren Missouri acquired the Rock Island right of way in 1999 through the subsidiary Missouri Central Railroad in partnership with General Railway Corporation. The purchase brought a recreational trail through Eldon one step closer to reality.

NCCC―National Civilian Community Corps

The group of young people signed up for the NCCC as a way to help pay for future tuition and to help make a difference in communities. The Denver-based team members were assigned this project, and once finished here will move on to another community as yet to be determined. The Eldon project was their first.

At the end of their ten-month NCCC responsibilities, members who have successfully completed their service will receive $5,550 each toward future tuition.

Daphney Partridge, PAVE AmeriCorps Community Resource Director, told the Eldon Board of Aldermen recently that the team was a part of a campus-based national service program.

“NCCC support is vital to getting the Rock Island Trail project to the next stage of development. We are so grateful to the local churches that have offered their facilities to house the Members. This community support is a tremendous asset to the project,” Partridge said.

You can help

The Eldon community and lake-area residents have an opportunity to get involved in transforming the Rock Island Railway in Eldon into a hiking/biking trail.

A community volunteer workday will be held from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, with signup at the Rock Island Park adjacent to Highway 54. Interested citizens are reminded to wear sturdy shoes and gloves, and bring trash bags to help in the effort. This is the first community volunteer involvement.

The National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team has cleared about 1.7 miles of brush and unwanted trees that the Missouri Department of Conservation felled recently east of the park pavilion.