An estimated 50 people representing a cross section of interests turned out for a Rock Island Trail informational meeting Monday evening in Eldon.

An estimated 50 people representing a cross section of interests turned out for a Rock Island Trail informational meeting Monday evening in Eldon.

The meeting is one of several anticipated along the 144-mile long rail line that Ameren Development Company, a subsidiary of Ameren Missouri, agreed to formally abandon and eventually turn over to Missouri State Parks for development of a hiking and biking recreational trail.

Under the application that Ameren will file with the Surface Transportation Board to abandon the line, the corridor would be converted to a trail under a federal law designed to keep railroad right of way intact for possible future use. The state acquired the Katy Trail using that law.

A coalition of communities along the trail is forming a partnership to work together in getting the derelict railbed turned into a picturesque trail. There were Eldon Rock Island Trail representatives, city, county and state officials from several communities along the line, the Missouri State Parks, the National Parks Service and the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., attending.

In addition, several landowners whose properties adjoin the railbed shared concerns and asked questions of the recreational trail proposal.

Boosting the Eldon effort was a decision recently by the Eldon Board of Aldermen to create an 11-member municipal committee to coordinate issues involving Eldon’s three-mile-long segment that runs east-west through the community.

The line runs from near Beaufort on the east side of the state to near Windsor between Clinton and Sedalia. The goal of the Eldon group, MoRIT and others is for the Rock Island section to eventually connect with the Katy Trail, resulting in a 450-mile trail loop. According to State Rep. David Wood, the trail would be one of the longest in the world once completed.

“This is a vision many of us have had for several years, and now I believe the vision will become a reality,” noted Daphney Partridge, a leader in the Eldon effort.

 

Agenda

Organizers provided a brief history of the Rock Island line, which was last used for rail car movement some 30 years ago. The line has been under the ownership of the Ameren subsidiary and has become overgrown with trees and vegetation. Some of the crossings have been paved over, some trestles are in a state of disrepair and at least two tunnels along the 144-mile route need maintenance.

Mac McNally, a lake resident and Eldon committee member, and Chrysa Niewald, president of MoRIT, provided a vision and trail initiative activities. Partridge updated the group about the current status of the Missouri Central Railroad and Rock Island Railroad.

Matt Davis, committee member, provided an update on the rail banking process, and committee member Mike Feeback provided background on development of the Katy Trail.

Kim Schafer with the National Parks Service provided background on partnerships and planning and Partridge explained the potential economic impact of a trail through Eldon.

Partridge said Eldon committee members and MoRIT organizers realize the project is costly and that there are obstacles to overcome.

“We recognize not everyone is as excited as we are,” Niewald said. “We realize there will be problems, and we’ll be working with adjacent landowners to resolve the issues.”

 

Potential timeline

Officials believe the abandonment and railbanking legal process through the federal Surface Transportation Board could take between 12 and 18 months. Removal of the rails and ties could take another 12-18 months. The repair of bridges and tunnels will take more time and will be costly, the trail advocates say.

Completion of the trail could take a decade or more.

But committee members aren’t deterred, especially after Ameren’s decision not to sell the line for scrap as was feared last summer.

“Rails to Trails is a win-win situation for us,” Partridge said. “There will be challenges and we’ll have to find solutions. But this is a viable solution compared to what we’ve been living with the last 30 years.”

 

Benefits

Aside from the obvious recreational opportunities the Rock Island Trail would provide, Partridge said there are potential economic benefits as well.

“It could be a valuable economic tool for Eldon,” she noted. “Eldon can still be a railroad town and at the same time acknowledge our heritage.”

She cited statistics from construction of the Katy Trail, which sees an estimated 400,000 visitors annually with a system-wide annual economic impact of $18.49 million, including a $5 million payroll. The total value to local communities from visitor spending is estimated at $8.2 million.

The trail would:

•Provide safe routes to many school campuses

•Promote healthy living and improve quality of live for local areas

•Foster economic development and revitalization of small businesses

•Preserve cultural landscape and community identity

•Provide needed recreational facilities

 

Challenges

Developing the trail will be time consuming and costly, officials acknowledge. Among the challenges are:

•Acquisition, abandonment and railbanking

•Engineering issues such as safety concerns, narrow tunnel valleys, road crossings, bridges, trestles and tunnels, hills and adjacent landowner property rights and rights-of-way.

•The sustainable costs, maintenance and fund raising.

 

What’s next

There will be additional information meetings held along the rail line. MoRIT will continue its membership drive to involve as many communities and individuals as possible in their group.

The rail abandonment and railbanking process is in the hands of the Ameren Development Company and Surface Transportation Board.