When supporters of a recreational trail in the right of way of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad made their case in the early 1980s, there was stiff opposition from landowners along the route.
Some of the fiercest opposition came from farmers in Warren County who were concerned people using the trail, which runs along the north bank of the Missouri River, would trespass on their property and cause problems.
We sympathized with the farmers and supported their efforts to derail the trail.
Despite the opposition, the Katy Trail was eventually constructed, earning the distinction of the country’s longest Rails-to-Trail route, spanning some 240 miles from Clinton to Machens.
The farmers’ fears and ours were misplaced. The problems never materialized.
Today, the Katy Trail is recognized as one of the crown jewels of the Missouri State Park’s renowned system, drawing about 400,000 bikers and hikers each year from across the country and the world.
It has spurred commercial development and generates about $20 million a year for the state’s economy. It has put our state on the map for those who take trail riding seriously.
Like many of our readers who use the trail, we’re just glad it’s in our backyard. You can’t beat it for the views of the Missouri River and the surrounding countryside. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything to use.
We didn’t appreciate the trail’s potential when first proposed, but we do now. That’s why it is frustrating to learn the proposed Rock Island Trail is on hold.
The Rock Island Trail would reach from Beaufort to Windsor in Western Missouri where it already connects to the Katy. Long-range plans include extending the trail from Beaufort into Washington where it would cross the new Missouri River Bridge and connect with the Katy, completing a cross-state loop.
State officials last June disclosed they were reconsidering whether to go through with the planned donation of the rail corridor by Ameren, which bought it in 1999 through a subsidiary.
On Jan. 19, the federal Surface Transportation Board agreed to a request by the state Department of Natural Resources to postpone the decision until Feb. 21, 2019, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
The state indicated it will use the additional time to study the costs involved in building the trail, which could run between $65 to $85 million. That is a lot of money for a state already coping with significant budget cuts to education and other essential services.
But development of the Rock Island Trail, like the Katy, was always expected to include additional funding resources from the federal government, local governments and the private sector. The state was never going to foot the total bill.
If the state acquired the former rail corridor, we have no doubt a campaign could be initiated to secure the money. Given the success of the Katy Trail and the widespread support already voiced for the Rock Island Trail, we don’t believe it would be a heavy lift.
What is disappointing is the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation’s opposition to the proposed trail project. The group is arguing, among other things, that the trail would be disruptive to nearby farm operations.
Sound familiar? We used the same arguments when we editorialized against the Katy Trail. We were wrong then and the Farm Bureau is wrong now.
The state should get behind the Rock Island Trail. Gov. Eric Greitens should take his family on a hike or bike ride on the portion of the trail near Jefferson City. It’s a beautiful stretch of the trail.
It could inspire some clear thinking on this important issue.