The Rock Island Trail will connect the Katy Trail
Last December, hundreds attended the dedication of the first 47 miles of the Rock Island Trail, the abandoned rail line that holds recreation and economic opportunities across central Missouri. The Pleasant Hill to Windsor segment connects greater Kansas City to the 240 mile Katy Trail. Ameren will give an additional 144 miles to the State of Missouri in late 2017 after salvage of the rails and ties is completed.
Nearly 100 of the 144 miles are alongside two-lane highways and through towns such as Stover, Versailles, Eldon, Belle and Owensville. The salvaged rail corridor is relatively flat and resembles a dirt road. Improvement to the Katy Trail standard will be as public and private funding is available. The spectacular bridges over the Gasconade, Osage and Maries rivers are good candidates for naming by philanthropists or businesses interested in promoting family-friendly activities, communities, tourism, economic development, health and wellness, or conservation.
Towns created by the Rock Island Railroad initially benefited with economic development and improved quality of life for its citizens. For those towns falling on harder times with the absence of a continued rail boom, a second chance will be provided with the new trails. The Katy Trail’s annual economic impact is more than $18 million, according to the Katy Trail_Economic Impact Report. The Rock Island will have even greater usage and economic impact per mile. Residents in dozens of towns will use it daily for transportation and recreation. Improved quality of life will be positive for business development.
Greg Harris, executive director of the Missouri Rock Island Trail, said “people can benefit from the trail as they’re just going to school or work, or running errands.” Harris said there are a number of sights to appreciate along the trail, and the easy terrain will make for an enjoyable trip no matter where your point A starts and your point B ends. And for people who simply want to enjoy a walk outside, Harris said it’s “much closer than driving to Jefferson City.”
A Safe Route to School will be created by the trail at Owensville. Their schools are just east of Highway 19 and the town is mostly to the west, so students have not been allowed to walk or bicycle to school for safety reasons. That will change as the completed trail will pass under Highway 19. The trail will also provide a safe alternative to Highway 28 for students traveling to school from many miles to the east. According to Harris, the flat trails will encourage activity in the area, and studies have shown rural health and childhood obesity rates improve where residents have safe places to walk and bicycle. The ease of the trail will also prove beneficial to those with weight or mobility issues, allowing them to enjoy the trail and its health benefits.
The Katy/Rock Island Trail system will be an internationally recognized loop. Travelers on the Katy Trail marvel at the Missouri River and enjoy the heritage of communities like Augusta and Hermann. The Rock Island Trail creates synergies by adding spectacular bridges and tunnels 2-5 football fields long, like the one under Freeburg. Several loops will be possible from Kansas City and St. Louis. Amtrack offers several easy one-way shuttles and stores and restaurants in sight from the Rock Island are open most days, not just seasonally or on weekends. Increased tourism has already begun due to the addition of the first 47 miles, and the towns along the way are pitching in.
The City of Belle is building more than a mile of trail in early 2017 to the specifications of MO State Parks. Construction was sped up a year or more after MoRIT helped the City of Belle and Ameren broker a special agreement to transfer interim responsibility for the segment to the city. Funding is 80% from a Recreational Trails Program grant with the 20% local match being the construction by city personnel and equipment. Belle plans to renovate its former MFA as a welcome center, with wraparound decking and other inviting spaces.
Eldon has requested responsibility for 3 miles of corridor through their city limits. A donor with local ties has given Eldon $150,000 in matching money to rebuild a former railroad depot as a welcome center, museum and offices for their Chamber of Commerce. It will be at the front door of downtown Eldon near its community center. Lake Regional Health Center is developing an outpatient care facility next to the trail. A former manufacturing facility is being renovated as a senior care center. Both of those health care facilities were located to take advantage of the trail as a new community asset for transportation and exercise for their patients.
Kansas City’s Jackson County has purchased 17.7 miles of former Rock Island Railroad corridor from the Truman Sports Complex on I-70 through Raytown and Lee’s Summit. Trail will be constructed in 2017-18, with longer term goals of adding commuter rail and/or buses. Area communities are working on alternative routes for the 4-5 mile “Greenwood Gap” where there is no rail corridor available from Lee’s Summit to Pleasant Hill.
In St. Louis, residents are eager for the Rock Island Trail to approach their regional trail network. The Katy Trail is just a few miles away at Washington, where the new Highway 47 Bridge over the Missouri River will be bike-friendly. Further east on the Katy Trail, the new Highway 64-40 Boone Bridge connecting to Chesterfield Bottoms is also bike-friendly.
As a touring cyclist, Greg Harris said the trail will be a great boon for the cycling community.
“One of the things you make sure of [as a touring cyclist] is being able to get food or water on the trail. On the rock Island Trail, the towns are close together so this won’t be a problem.” The towns along the trail originally sprang up as part of the railroad, and the renovation of it into a trail will be a boost to their economies as participants stay the night in their towns while out on the trail and contribute to the communities.
“It’s a good opportunity to get acquainted with these towns that have a lot to share, and have quite a history themselves,” Harris said.