Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon joined Ameren Wednesday, Dec. 21, to announce that a 144-mile stretch of the former Rock Island rail line from Windsor to Beaufort is on track to be transferred to the state of Missouri by the end of 2017 for future development as a hiking and biking trail.

Once developed, Rock Island Trail State Park will offer hikers and cyclists an opportunity to experience beautiful scenery and landscapes and further strengthen Missouri’s outdoor economy.

At the event, Nixon also announced that attendance at Missouri State Parks surpassed 20 million visitors for the first time in history, meeting the goal he set when he first took office in 2009.

“This new trail will bolster Missouri’s position as the nation’s premier hiking and biking destination — and strengthen local economies all along its path,” said Nixon. “I want to thank Ameren for its outstanding corporate citizenship and for partnering with us to create a new outdoor asset that Missouri families and visitors to the Show-Me State will enjoy for generations to come.”

“The Rock Island rail line is a tremendous opportunity to create a world-class hiking and biking trail for Missouri that will boost tourism and stimulate economic development for communities along the line,” said Michael Moehn, president, Ameren Missouri. “As a community partner in the transformation of the line, we have been working for years to complete vegetation and salvage efforts and aim to transfer the property to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2017.”

“Turning around a decade-long decline in state park attendance by giving families more ways to enjoy the outdoors is one of the governor’s signature achievements — and today’s announcement further cements that legacy,” said Missouri State Parks Director Bill Bryan. “I could not be prouder to have been part of an administration that championed Missouri’s outdoor economy and improved Missourians’ quality of life in so many lasting ways.”

The Rock Island rail line has not been in operation for more than two decades and was purchased by Ameren in 1999. Operations to remove and salvage rail from the line are expected to be complete by the end of 2017, at which point the property will be transferred to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Once the property is transferred, the trail will take a number of years to complete.

Improved System

Nixon has made it a priority to give Missouri families and visitors more ways to enjoy the natural beauty of Missouri. Since taking office in 2009, he has expanded and improved Missouri’s state park system, including creating new parks and extending the Katy Trail across the state.

Missouri has been named the best camping state, the best trails state, and its state parks have consistently ranked among the best in the nation.

Missouri trails and state parks are important drivers of tourism and economic activity; earlier this month, Nixon announced that the number of visitors to Missouri hit an all-time record of 41.7 million.

An economic impact study found that visitors to state parks produced an overall economic impact of $1.02 billion and supported more than 14,000 Missouri jobs.

Katy Trail

Another study found that Katy Trail State Park alone generates nearly $18.5 million a year in economic impact for the state, supports 367 jobs and makes an overall economic impact of $8.2 million to the local trail communities.

In July, Nixon dedicated Echo Bluff State Park in Shannon County. The new park has not only brought in more than 300,000 visitors during its first five months of operation, it also has become a driver of the local economy, both through the construction jobs at the park site before it opened as well as the dozens of jobs needed to staff the park.

On Dec. 10, the governor opened 47.5 miles of trail between Pleasant Hill and Windsor along the Rock Island spur of the Katy Trail State Park, enabling hikers and bicyclists to travel cross-state from the Kansas City area all the way to the St. Louis area along the world-renowned Katy Trail.

Just last week, Nixon also announced that Missouri is adding three new state parks — Bryant Creek State Park in Douglas County, Eleven Point State Park in Oregon County and Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County.

With the addition of those parks, there will be 91 Missouri state parks and historic sites.