Missouri State Parks and Ameren have been granted approval to continue working on the final agreement for 144 miles of railway corridor for the Rock Island Trail.
According to Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) approved a deadline extension to February 21, 2019 for Missouri State Parks and Ameren to finalize a rail-banking agreement for 144 miles of rail corridor. The segment from Windsor to Beaufort passes through 20 communities including Versailles, Eldon, Freeburg and Owensville. The extension was required to complete salvage of the rails and ties.
It is the third one-year extension since the rail-banking plan was approved by the STB. It was routine, but critical. Without the extension, the corridor would have become abandoned and broken into thousands of pieces instead of remaining in the public domain. It would have been forever lost for interim use as a trail and for potential future use as a rail line or other public purpose., Harris said.
The STB approves rail-trails to preserve corridors with the interim use as a trail. Trail managers have wide latitude over the surface, users (such as hiking, cycling, equestrian) and development timetable.
In 2012, Ameren transferred ownership of the first 47 mile Rock Island segment from Pleasant Hill to Windsor. That hiking, cycling and equestrian trail opened in December, 2016 as part of Katy Trail State Park, creating a continuous trail from greater KC to STL, Harris cited.
“The next 144 miles will create a world-class loop with the 240 mile Katy Trail. Missouri State Parks is conducting a thorough study of the costs/benefits of accepting the corridor to develop as a state park,” he said. “They have received 8,685 overwhelmingly positive comments from the public that can be read at https://mostateparks.com/rockislandlinecorridor. Eight letters of enthusiastic support included the cities of Springfield, Rolla, Chesterfield, Owensville and Warsaw, and two regional planning commissions: Spirit Trail Coalition/Johnson County Planning Commission and Kaysinger Basin Planning Commission.”
There has been opposition to the trail from landowners who want to protect their property and the potential problems that could result from users.
The most challenging engineering and construction for this trail were done in 1900-04. Tunnels 2-5 football fields long pass under Eugene and Freeburg, and near Meta. Spectacular bridges traverse the Gasconade, Osage and Maries rivers, he said. .
“The trail will provide a safe, non-motorized alternative to an estimated 90 miles of parallel highways between towns. Examples include the 56 miles paralleling Highway 52 from Windsor to Eldon and the 33 miles along highways 28 and 50 from Belle to Beaufort,” according to Harris. “Horses and buggies may be allowed on the trail in the Versailles area where Groffdale Conference Mennonites now share the two-lane Highway 52 with motorists. An estimated 30 miles of the next 144 are within the city limits of 20 historic railroad towns. It will improve their quality of life and property values, and make those communities more attractive to new residents and to industry.”
Katy Trail State Park is highly successful, with a direct economic impact of more than $18 million per year based on a report issued by the state
The first 47-mile segment of the Rock Island Trail put the former railroad towns of Pleasant Hill, Chilhowee, Leeton and Windsor on a high traffic trail between greater KC and St. Louis.
“Visitors from all over the world are spending money on food, lodging and entertainment,” he said. “The newfound tourism is giving communities increased tax revenues. Dormant properties have become grocery stores, restaurants and B&Bs.
Adding the next 144 miles will connect Kansas City to Missouri’s largest state park at Lake of the Ozarks and fill a long gap between state parks The Rock Island passes through 20 towns that Harris said will benefit from users spending time and money along the trail.
The Kansas City trail network will be further connected when 18 miles of trail from Lee’s Summit to I-70 is built and open in 2019 .On the other end to the state in St. Louis, organizations are waiting for the Rock Island Trail to approach their regional trail network, he said. The bike-friendly Highway 64-40 Boone Bridge over the Missouri River connects the Katy Trail to Chesterfield Bottoms. At Washington, the new Highway 47 Bridge will be bike-friendly late this year. Train shuttles along the Katy/Rock Island Trails are possible from St. Louis, Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia and Lee’s Summit. Springfield is also interested in connecting to the trail. The route would connect Warsaw’s trail system to the Rock Island at Cole Camp. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization wants to connect the Katy and Rock Island Trails through Jefferson City.
“Adding the next144 miles of Rock Island is expected to produce more than a 20:1 return on investment. The problem for Missouri State Parks is that they will get little additional revenue from the trail. They are funded by a 1/20 of 1% sales tax and ancillary revenues,” he said. “ The solution is to be more creative about partnerships with communities, individuals and philanthropists. Accepting the corridor is the first, necessary step, with further development happening as fast as funding allows.”
Accelerating development of the trail is the mission of Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., a 501(c) (3) nonprofit.