With the deadline looming to accept the donation of a rail corridor for the proposed Rock Island Trail, there has been no indication that the state will follow through with the plan.
In 2014, Missouri State Parks, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and other Missouri partners succeeded in convincing Ameren Corporation, the corridor’s owner, to pursue railbanking of the 144-mile segment between Windsor and Beaufort for rail-trail conversion.
The rails and ties have been removed, and the corridor is ready to be donated for trail development. Numerous communities have offered partnerships to further develop the trail within their city limits, and then maintain and police it.
According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the state parks division under Gov. Mike Parson faces a Feb. 21 federal deadline for deciding whether to accept the planned donation of the rail corridor by Ameren.
In reconsidering its position on accepting Ameren Corporation’s offer to donate the corridor for use as a trail, Missouri State Parks cited concerns about costs, maintenance and the state’s capacity — all issues that have and can be addressed in partnership with Missouri’s nonprofit trails community, local governments and private investment.
Two years ago, then-Gov. Jay Nixon announced plans to turn a 144-mile stretch of the old Rock Island rail line into a state biking-hiking trail.
At issue, parks officials say, is the potential cost of developing the corridor into something similar to the long-established Katy Trail and its affect on the state’s financial ability to operate its many existing parks, according to the report.
The conservancy’s effort follows similar lobby campaigns over the past two years by the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., a booster group for the trail, according to the report.
Supporters also include leaders in towns along the corridor, which would reach from Beaufort in Franklin County to Windsor in western Missouri.
The Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, meanwhile, remains opposed and says the trail would disrupt nearby farms and lead to increased road and public safety expenses.
State officials in 2017 said fully completing the trail could cost $65 million to $85 million. That was a preliminary estimate based on experience from 47.5 miles of trail opened in 2016 along a Rock Island segment west of Windsor, the Post-Dispatch reported.
That’s now called the Rock Island spur of the Katy Trail. The Katy itself goes from St. Charles County through Windsor and further west, according to the Post-Dispatch report.
Last month, hundreds from across Missouri attended public meetings hosted last week by Missouri State Parks to help determine the fate of the 144-mile Rock Island Railroad corridor between Windsor and Beaufort.
Public feedback at the meetings was overwhelmingly positive, mirroring the sentiment of the nearly 9,000 comments — nearly unanimous in their support for the project — that were previously submitted to the state in the summer of 2017.
The meetings underscore the need to be creative and flexible to secure new economic opportunities for the small towns along its route, an epic outdoor recreation asset for all of Missouri to celebrate and enjoy, and a world-class destination trail, officials said.
At the meetings in Owensville, Versailles and Meta, the state introduced the idea of accepting sections of the corridor rather than taking the steps necessary to preserve the 144-mile corridor intact.