In anticipation of a Rock Island Trail, towns along the 144-mile corridor are beginning to dream of how they might benefit from visiting cyclists, pedestrians and horseback riders.
The former Rock Island Railroad corridor from Windsor to Beaufort is currently abandoned; Ameren has offered to donate the corridor to the Department of Natural Resources. DNR's State Parks division has until Feb. 21 to decide whether to accept the donation.
For a dozen small towns along the corridor, a trail could offer an opportunity to bring tourism to their communities. One of those communities — Meta — has been exploring those possibilities with students in an engineering management service learning class offered at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Joan Schuman, S&T associate professor, worked with the Meramec Regional Planning Commission, which identified Meta as a town with numerous community improvement projects. She said this helps students gain experience solving real world problems.
"Students are coming up with conceptional designs, then the city will hire a licensed professionals to complete the project," Schuman said. "The city can use that plan for grant applications or if they have the money, they can use the plan to help with the bid process."
The projects were displayed Nov. 13 at the Meta Civic League Hall for community members to view and ask questions.
Emma Thompson, an engineering management major, and her team focused on the city's historic signage and self-guided walking tour. The stop would allow visitors to view Meta's history and new elements as they travel through town.
"What we did was we chose important locations through the town that had a relevance to the town's history or the town's economy now," Thompson said. "We gave them several different options to choose from so that we could be as modular as possible and include as much or as little as they wanted."
Other projects focused on a train depot stop and directing pedestrian traffic safely through town along the corridor.
"If the Rock Island Trail goes through town, what that's going to do is give Meta an economic boost," student Rodney Dukes said.
Meta residents say they see the potential benefits.
"I think it's great," Meta Alderwoman Ivie Helton said about the student projects. "If the trail actually comes through, we want to be able to bring people in; we want them to not just ride through town — we want them to stop."
Meta isn't the only town with outlines for stops.
Eldon has included the possibility of the trail in its Healthy Eldon Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which was adopted in September.
"With the possibility of Rock Island Trail running right through the middle of our community, that's one of the things we really focused on," said Sarah Rader, an Eldon R-1 School District employee and Rock Island Trail committee member.
Rader was involved in the city receiving a five-year Capital Region Medical Center grant for Healthy Schools Healthy Communities for Miller County, which ended in September. The grant helped start programs at the school and fund safer walking and biking routes in town.
"We received the grant funding. We really focused on the trail and the mode of safe travel that the Rock Island Trail can be," Rader said.
She said a pedestrian signal that would allow a pedestrian to stop road traffic and safely cross the street is currently being installed at U.S. 52 and Rock Island Trail crossing in Eldon, which was part of the plan.