Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and Ben Ellis could give Missourians one heck of a Christmas present by accepting the 144-mile Rock Island line for a future state park trail corridor.
By doing so, Greitens and Ellis, director of state parks, would be honoring the wishes of the state’s residents, who have made it clear that is what they want.
Earlier this year, the state opened a public hearing on the corridor, which would be a companion on the south side of the Missouri River to the popular Katy Trail State Park. The state already opened a 47.5-mile spur of the Rock Island, connecting to the 240-mile Katy at Windsor and running to the south side of Kansas City. Between the two, and with spurs and connectors, the state would have a 400- to 500-mile network of trails for cycling, running, hiking, walking and more connecting major cities and smaller towns.
It would make Missouri the envy of every other state.
This summer, during a public comment period, the Department of Natural Resources (which oversees state parks) received more than 8,600 comments and they were overwhelmingly in favor of accepting the corridor.
• “I am an avid supporter of this trail and its development. I have personally ridden the entire KATY Trail on two occasions and spent $500 plus over the four days. While traveling I met people from several states and also at least one foreign country. The addition of the Rock Island Trail will make Missouri even more of an active recreation destination and draw people to the state.”
• “These villages along the proposed trail will benefit greatly from the increased tourism traffic as bikers and hikers will be searching for supplies, lodging, restaurants, etc ... What are we waiting for? ... I see little downside. Build it, promote it, and celebrate it without further delay!”
• “I live in Arizona and have twice ridden the Katy Trail — both times round trips in order to fully appreciate the natural resources along the trail and the hospitality of the towns through which it passes. ... The proposed Rock Island Trail will make Missouri THE family-friendly and vacation-cycling destination of the United States. ... Hurry up and get the (Rock Island Trail) completed as I am very eager to return to Missouri and pedal it end to end!”
• “This will be a world-class acquisition for the state of Missouri and will bring bike tourism from all over the world.”
A number of communities also weighed in with letters, including:
• Springfield, which said: “ ... we are always dreaming of the possibilities of someday seeing the connection of our Frisco Highline Trail (35 miles, from Springfield to Bolivar) to the Katy Trail and now perhaps to the Rock Island Trail.”
• Rolla, which said: “ ... we have discussed a trail partnership with the city of St. James, and an opportunity to connect same to the airport and on to a 190-mile (Rock Island) trail brings real enthusiasm.”
• Warsaw, which said: “The process has started to see how we can connect our network of trails to the Rock Island and Katy to our north and Frisco Highline Trail to our south that connects to Springfield. ... This will connect Missouri’s lake regions and link two major tourist regions in the Branson/Springfield region to the Katy Trail region.”
We could go on, but you get the point.
And yes, there was some limited opposition, from commenters who thought focusing on a trail didn’t make economic sense when Missouri’s roads badly need repairs. The Missouri Farm Bureau also sent the only opposition letter, citing private property concerns of adjacent landowners, concern about the impact on farming operations, etc.
You can read all the comments and letters at https://mostateparks.com/rockislandlinecorridor#tabs-panel-bottom4.
And while it wasn’t in the public comments, St. Joseph, meanwhile, has identified connecting to the Katy/Rock Island network to the south as one of its transportation priorities. This could become not just an east-west route, but a north-south network as well.
It’s clear from the response that Missourians favor a trail.
Cleanup and salvage along the rail corridor is nearing an end, and there is currently a Feb. 21 Surface Transportation Board deadline for the state to sign an agreement to rail bank the former Rock Island line, although an extension is possible.
Greg Harris, executive director of the Missouri Rock Island Trail, which advocates for its preservation as a trail, has noted that the state could accept it, but it doesn’t have to commit to developing the trail immediately, waiting until money becomes available. In the meantime, accepting it would allow the 20 or so communities along the Rock Island route to begin developing their stretches of the trail without waiting on the state. They are eager to get going.
I, too, see little downside, and am also compelled to ask: What are we waiting for? Build it, promote it and celebrate it without further delay.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe. Contact him at email@example.com.