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Missouri park officials weigh new hiking, biking trail

Missouri park officials weigh new hiking, biking trail

December 30th, 2018 by Associated Press in Local News

Tracks on the former Rock Island Railroad right of way in Eldon are shown in this May 31, 2012, file photo.

EUGENE, Mo. (AP) — Missouri parks officials will soon have to decide whether or not to accept a planned donation of a rail line and turn the corridor into a biking and hiking trail.

The state parks division will have until Feb. 21 to make a decision on Ameren's donation of the 144-mile stretch of the Rock Island rail line, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The electric services company obtained the corridor in 1999 through a subsidiary.

Park officials said they're concerned with the potential cost of developing the corridor, which could hurt the state's ability to operate existing parks.

"We don't want to do anything to impact our stewardship of the facilities we have," said Mike Sutherland, a deputy state parks director.

The trail could cost between $65 million-$85 million, state officials estimated in 2017. Further study of the corridor's condition hasn't changed the estimate, Sutherland said.

The state has multiple options available for how it can approach the project, such as accepting just part of the corridor or collaborating with private groups, Sutherland said.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation and Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc. have all pushed for officials to move forward with the trail plan.

While the state parks system is the most logical organization to oversee the corridor, Missouri Rock may explore having a private entity accept the donation if the state rejects the project, said Greg Harris, Missouri Rock's executive director.

The Missouri Farm Bureau Federation has raised concerns the trail would disrupt farms and raise costs for roads and public safety.