A lake area state representative plans to file a bill creating a fund that would be used for the development and operation of the Rock Island Trail if the project is accepted by the state of Missouri.

A lake area state representative plans to file a bill creating a fund that would be used for the development and operation of the Rock Island Trail if the project is accepted by the state of Missouri.

State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said while the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is still working with Ameren, there are certain things that need to take place regardless of the outcome of discussions.

The bill would create a fund that would only be used if the project moves forward. Wood said the fund would allow everyone to see exactly money is being spent on the project and would only include money from the state if the legislature and governor agree on funding.

Any private donations to the trail would also be deposited into the fund and would allow donors to see that their contribution is only going to the project. If the state does not accept the trail or would relinquish it in the future then the donations would be returned, he said.

Although there has been some concern over the delay in the state accepting the Rock Island Trail, Wood said the delay is not a bad thing.

“The state is doing its due diligence in making sure there are no issues of liabilities in taking the donation,” he said. “If the state were not considering the the donation there would be no reason for the extension.”

After nearly four years of review and negotiation, Missouri State Parks and Missouri Central Railroad applied for another extension of an interim trail use agreement while the state continues to study the potential for turning the 144-mile defunct line between Windsor and Beaufort into a recreational trail. The project was facing a deadline of Feb. 21, 2019. The extension gives the state and railroad 180 more days to come to a decision.

The majority of the Rock Island Railroad has been out of service since the mid-1980s after being built in the first years of the 1900s.

Since an initial Notice of Interim Trail Use was approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board on Feb. 25, 2015, there have been multiple extensions, putting off a decision on the railbanking project that would allow the out-of-service line to be acquired by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources from right-of-way owner Missouri Central Railroad. A subsidiary of Ameren, MCR has offered to transfer the right-of-way for use as a trail at no cost to the state. MCR began the process of abandoning the line in 2014. Interest is high in turning the old line into a trail that would connect with the Katy Trail, another former rail line, creating a large loop across the state that could make it the longest continuous trail in the United States.

In the last four years, Missouri State Parks (operating under the DNR umbrella) has received numerous comments via public hearings and other communications in favor of the Rock Island Trail. The trail could be the catalyst economic development through greater outdoor tourism opportunities, enhancing alternatives for transportation as well as generally promoting healthy living and historic and environmental preservation.

There has also been opposition raised by those who are worried about the trail’s impact on regarding disruption of farms along the line and the cost for development and maintenance.

According to Missouri State Parks Deputy Director of Administration Mike Sutherland, the complexity of the project has required a lot of time to do due diligence on behalf of taxpayers and those living along the path of the old rail line.

Wood has significant constituency along the Rock Island corridor. He sees the extension as a positive sign for those who want the trail, acknowledging that many proponents in his communities are eagerly and anxiously anticipating the project just as there are those who are not so excited. Wood said in a prior interview that when the trail was first discussed, [then] Gov. Nixon was very supportive, but there were no studies done that really needed to be done in terms of impact. The extension, Wood said, is probably positive for those wanting the trail. If the state really didn’t want it, they wouldn’t have asked for an extension, they would have just said no, Wood said.

The planned trail would run along 144 miles of the Missouri Rock Island railroad right of way from Windsor near Kansas City to the St. Louis area. An additional 47 miles of the right of way between Pleasant Hill and Windsor have already been completed. The Katy Trail links with the Rock Island at Windsor.

In 2015 Ameren agreed to donate 144 miles of railway corridor for development of a recreational hiking and biking trail. The Surface Transportation Board, the entity that would oversee the transfer of the land, set a Feb. 21, 2019, deadline for the state to decide if the project will be approved. The most recent extension is the second STB has granted .

Sutherland said the state estimates development costs for the project if it were to be developed sim ilar to the Katy Trail would cost from $67 to $88m million to develop the entire corridor. A bill passed just last year would make the state responsible for fencing along the corridor.

In addition to the town hall meetings, the state did a survey. Of the 8,685 responses, 98 percent were in support of the trail. While the state is in the process of making a decision, supporters are continuing their efforts. The Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., and the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian, two organizations that are pushing for the development of the trail, have been joined in their advocacy by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.