What began as an idea to develop a recreational trail along the railroad right of way in Eldon has become part of a much larger look at community betterment.

What began as an idea to develop a recreational trail along the railroad right of way in Eldon has become part of a much larger look at community betterment.

The abandoned Rock Island Railroad line once linked Eldon to the larger world. It was the route of commerce and travel from Jefferson City through Eldon and on to Kansas City. Now it is an overgrown right of way that cuts the town in half and owned by a subsidiary of the Ameren corporation. The federal rails-to-trails act allows use of abandoned railroad lines for recreation purposes, which was the starting point for a move to rehabilitate the line through Eldon.

About two years ago a volunteer committee was formed to explore the possibility of turning the old rail line into a recreational facility. A member of the committee was able to get permission from the railroad division of Ameren which owns the old line and a Nebraska man who has an option on the line to proceed with development of a recreational facility.

Using the hugely successful Katy Trail across Missouri as a template, significant progress has been made on the project. AmeriCorps workers cleared a portion of the rail right of way, financial commitments were secured and the possibility of grants and other funding explored.

Two chapters of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have completed a visual overview of what the project could include. The architects were brought to the Eldon project by Kimberly Shafer of the National Park Service, a representative of the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program in the midwest. ASLA chapter members from Kansas City and St. Louis worked on the conceptual plan that looks beyond the idea of a recreation trail and envisions opportunities for the community as a whole.

The architects’ ideas caught the imagination of standing-room only crowd of Eldon civic leaders, residents and others. What is being called the Big Idea by organizers of the effort, includes a dramatic enhancement of the current Rock Island Park in Eldon’s downtown. The nearly three-mile Rock Island right of way would be developed into a recreational trail anchored by amenities in the park area. Among the ideas for the park are a an interpretive museum in the old train station and a farmers market.

The architects pointed out that the Eldon trail could be linked to a directed bicycle route on Route Y to the Lake of the Ozarks and a loop created by using a power-line right of way that runs from the lake to Eldon. There is also a statewide move by bicycle coalitions to open the entire Rock Island Line for a link to the Katy Trail.

Community members greeted the architects ideas with enthusiasm, particularly those aspects of the proposal that highlight the town’s railroad history. The next step will be development of an organization to select the parts of the proposal to incorporate into a plan, engage the public, identify funding mechanisms and create a program for moving forward.

Eldon PAVE Americorps director Daphney Partridge, a member of the volunteer trail committee, says the ASLA work is very exciting.

“This concept can be a starting point for some dramatic enhancement of the Eldon community,” Partridge said. “This could be the beginning of something very important.”

Members of the trail committee include Eldon Mayor Ron Bly, Erik Svoboda of the Chamber of Commerce, school Superintendent Matt Davis, Eldon city Councilwoman Sharon Harms and Daphney Partridge of PAVE AmeriCorps, Mac McNally and Michael Feeback.