A proposed trail for walkers, bicyclists and equestrians could be a boost to the St. Clair economy, as well as benefit surrounding communities in Franklin County.
That’s according to Matt Aholt, director of the Meramec Valley Trail Association, who told the St. Clair Board of Aldermen the trail would need city support to move forward.
Aholt presented the benefits of having a trail expansion project come through town at Monday’s board meeting.
He spoke to the board about the organization’s plan on developing 25 miles of trail extending from Highway O in Pacific to Meramec State Park or the conservation area in Sullivan.
The nonprofit trail association was formed about a year ago with a mission to provide communities with access to outdoor recreation and to boost economies in communities along the Meramec River Valley between Pacific and Sullivan, according to Aholt.
A way to fulfill the mission is to create a dirt trail open to hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. Aholt said some of the economic benefits of having the trail come through town include having travelers stop in St. Clair for a bite to eat, a place to stay the night and to fuel their vehicles.
“We want the trail to come through St. Clair,” he said. “We want to utilize the existing infrastructure here for lots of reasons.”
Aholt noted how the communities such as Hermann and Augusta have capitalized on the Katy Trail, which crosses into or near those areas.
He said there are a lot of opportunities for St. Clair and surrounding communities to benefit from the Meramec Valley Trail Association’s trail project, but the group will need the city’s cooperation, among other municipalities, and landowners to make the project come to fruition.
The majority of the trail will have to cross into privately owned property, which could be a problem if landowners are not on board, according to Aholt.
The path from Pacific through Sullivan involves 85 landowners. He said the path will be on as much conservation areas and Missouri Department of Natural Resource property as possible, but the majority of the trail will cross onto private property.
“I can’t tell you where we’re going to tie into St. Clair, but if St. Clair’s able to give me a few options . . . that gives a way to start,” Aholt said.
He gave a similar presentation at last month’s St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce meeting where he stated that three landowners are interested in participating in the trail so far. During that presentation, Aholt noted that landowners will make all of the decisions of how they want the trail developed on their property.
Plans for this trail expansion are part of a much larger project to create one long and extensive trail from Castlewood State Park in Ballwin to Thomasville in Oregon County, totaling 500 miles. Thomasville is about 30 miles from the Arkansas state line.
City Administrator Travis Dierker told The Missourian that he has heard Aholt’s presentation before and thinks positively of the trail expansion project.
“I think it’ll be a great asset for the city of St. Clair and the community altogether,” he said.
Dierker added that he’s looking forward to seeing how the city and the community as a whole can become involved and benefit from the project.
The association’s next step will be organizing an informational event open to St. Clair community members. Aholt said the public will have a chance to hear about the trail project and ask questions. More details about the event will be released as information becomes available.
“I intend to present the same information to the cities of Pacific and Sullivan, but dates haven’t been set. Our focus this fall is connecting with the St. Clair community,” he said.
In the meantime, the association is looking for interested St. Clair community members to volunteer with the project.
“We have a small group of dedicated volunteers helping out with fundraising and event outreach, but most are located around the Pacific area,” Aholt said. “We’d love to see some new faces from the St. Clair area to help us connect with landowners around the community, as well.”
He added that the Franklin County Commission is another municipality that the association plans to contact.
“The proposed trail would be a welcome enhancement to recreation here in Franklin County,” Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said. “Opportunities for people to traverse our beautiful county are always a plus and yet another reason for folks to come to Franklin County.”
To raise money for the project, a bingo night is set for Friday, Nov. 1, at the Opera House in Pacific.
More information about the event can be found on the Facebook event page called Rock & Roll Bingo, hosted by the Meramec Valley Trail Association.