A modest idea could be the beginning of a brighter future for the Eldon community.

A modest idea could be the beginning of a brighter future for the Eldon community.

A couple of years ago a group of Eldon residents and others met to kick around ways that the abandoned Rock Island Railroad line through town could be turned into a recreational facility. Early conversations centered around getting permission to use the line and how to get the brush-choked route cleared. While bicycle enthusiasts around the state have had their eye on the old Rock Island route from Jefferson City to Kansas City ever since the Katy Trail along the Missouri River was built, little headway has been made. Eldon has become the first community along the line to take solid steps in the direction of recreational use of the line.

The project began to take shape when those working on an ad hoc committee, were able to get permission to proceed from Ameren’s railroad subsidiary and a Nebraska man who has an option for use on a portion of the line.

Eldon Mayor Ron Bly and Americorps director Daphney Partridge took the lead on the next step. Partridge was able to bring in an Americorps crew to clear a portion of the right of way and city crews hauled away the debris.

The project was on its way.

Kimberly Shafer with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Program took an interest in the project which led to American Society of Landscape Architects chapters based in St. Louis and Kansas City getting involved. The architects visited Eldon, spoke with residents and officials and returned recently with a presentation of what the future could look like for the former railroad town.

When the architects presented their ideas to a packed house of interested Eldon and area residents the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. City officials, pastors, Eldon school superintendent Matt Davis — who has been involved from the first — business owners and others got a look at some very exciting ideas.

The architects have taken a path that has worked exceedingly well for communities around the country — Think Big. The trail has become central to a larger vision for Eldon. A vision where some renovation and community activism translates into new vitality and a renewed identity for a railroad town without a railroad.

Ideas range from an ephemeral train icon to a park and farmers’ market. It is an outline for success for both business and the community. It is a vision of a better future.

A quarter century ago the Missouri River town of Boonville had a similar meeting. Drawings of what the historic but dilapidated main street could look like where displayed and ideas kicked around. The idea took hold, the community got involved and revitalization - actually transformation - took place. By the time the Katy Trail began bringing significant new tourism to the town, the stage was set. A new day dawned for a town where the riverboats stopped running a long time ago.

Eldon is on the verge of something. The enthusiasm in the room during the architect’s presentation indicates that there are people who are willing to get involved in helping move their hometown forward. We expect great things to come of this. The people who pushed this forward and have worked hard to get to this point deserve a thank you from the community.