|
|
The Lake News Online
  • Rock Island Trail project hits growing pains as it expands statewide

  • A proposal to create a trail along an old railway in Eldon has expanded to encompass the entire line from the Kansas City to St. Louis areas, and organizers involved with the project say they are working on ironing out property ownership to move forward with the "rails to trails" project that would cut across the northern portion of the Lake of the Ozarks region.
    • email print
  • »  RELATED CONTENT
  • A proposal to create a trail along an old railway in Eldon has expanded to encompass the entire line from the Kansas City to St. Louis areas, and organizers involved with the project say they are working on ironing out property ownership to move forward with the "rails to trails" project that would cut across the northern portion of the Lake of the Ozarks region.
    Around three years ago, a volunteer committee formed in Eldon to investigate what it would take to turn the abandoned Rock Island Railroad line into an asset for the community instead of the liability it had become after the rail service was abandoned many years ago. The overgrown right of way through the city was an eyesore and a place for drug use and other illicit activities, according to committee member Daphney Partridge.
    The committee staged a cleanup effort for the portion of the railroad that cuts through the town after getting permission from Missouri Central Railway - a subsidiary of Ameren Corporation - which owns the majority of the line and from General Railway Corporation which owns a few select chunks of the right of way including that in Eldon.
    The future goal was to create a bike trail in the immediate Eldon area for recreational use.
    Earlier this year, the committee started to branch out after contact from Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., a group of communities near Owensville that had previously formed a consortium to try to get a trail along the entire Rock Island line.
    The concept envisions something similar to the Katy Trail, a successful rails to trails project that runs on the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) Missouri Pacific line roughly parallel to Rock Island to the north. The Rock Island Trail would potentially run around 146 miles from Union in the east to Pleasant Hill in the west or possibly Windsor or Cole Camp.
    With donated help from Kansas City and St. Louis area chapters of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a plan was created on how the trail could be developed in Eldon to create a recreational trail that could also enhance the city as a whole with a proposed interpretive museum, city park enhancements and a farmers market. The Eldon community got behind the vision, showing public support in a standing-room-only hearing held last fall.
    Since then, the Eldon group has also received some additional support from people in other area towns on the old railway, including Versailles and Stover, according to Partridge. The Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments (LOCLG) has also been supportive as well as individuals from Lake Ozark and Osage Beach who Partridge says realize the potential for the trail to boost tourism in the area even though the line is not directly connect to the lake itself.
    Page 2 of 2 - In a recently-developed prioritization list for the Missouri Department of Transportation, the LOCLG included a rails to trails project through Versailles after the suggestion rated strongly in a scoring matrix developed from a community survey of the Lake area.
    But while community interest in the Lake area and the former railroad towns in the region appears to be high, the project cannot move forward unless a deal is worked out with the right of way owners.
    Partridge says the Rock Island Trail group is investigating the possibility of rail banking which could be a way to allow the trail to be developed while preserving the right of way for future rail service for the right of way owners.
    She and fellow organizer Mac McNally are hopeful that something can be worked out, and the Rock Island organization is in talks with the owners about the issues.
    "There's so much potential for economic development, wellness, tourism - so many benefits as opposed to a swath of property that is full of weeds and illicit activities. I see so many win-win-win-win potentials," she says.
    The trail could also connect to other biking routes that could be possibly be developed alongside roadways - such as one already suggested down Route Y to W to Bagnell Dam - or down utility lines for possible mountain bike paths to the lake.
    "If we did this, it would create a loop [with the Katy Trail] so that people could ride from St. Louis to Kansas City and back," she says.
    In addition to recreational use, Partridge says she foresees potential for the trail to improve safety for Mennonites who could use possibly use buggies on the trail.
    An agreement is necessary to be able to use the property as well as obtain grant funding for development.
    Partridge is hopeful that something can be worked out.
    Right now, the Eldon group has received two small grants from the Community Foundation of the Lake and has received a commitment from the Eldon Chamber of Commerce, but a larger grant is needed to fully develop the trail. But, says Partridge, you can't really talk about writing grants until you know the status of the property you're writing the grant for.
    Part of the project could also be paid for with the inherent value of the old rail line. According to Partridge, there are companies that would pull up old rail line for the scrap metal.
      • calendar