Forward movement on the Missouri Rock Island Trail includes more than $600,000 in pledges from organizations, municipalities and individuals.
All funds are pending the Department of Natural Resources' Division of State Parks' decision to accept or deny the donation of the 144-mile abandoned stretch from Ameren.
Once a railroad, the proposed trail would create a tourist destination for many Missouri communities, proponents believe. Extending from the St. Louis area, the trail would route through or near communities including Versailles, Barnett, Eldon, Eugene, Meta, Argyle, Freeburg, Belle, Bland, Canaan and Owensville.
"We are massing hundreds of thousands of dollars in what we are terming non-binding pledges," said Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc.
Harris said it's hard for donors to give a solid commitment when DNR hasn't committed.
MoRIT received responses to a document uploaded to its Facebook page expressing interest in making a gift or grant once the plan receives the green light. Recent donations include $100,000 from the William A. Kerr Foundation, $100,000 from Rock Island Village in Eldon and individual donations ranging $100-$10,000.
A DNR official said budget constraints, as well as needs in existing parks, are reasons the department could potentially refuse the trail donation. The Surface Transportation Board has granted DNR an extension on making a decision until Feb. 21, 2019.
"We're still in the process of evaluation," said Mike Sutherland, Missouri State Parks deputy director of administration. "We'll have a decision sometime before then, but I can't really put a specific time or date."
A series of open-house events are in the works for communities along the Rock Island Trail corridor. Sutherland said four tentative meetings have been discussed but no locations or dates are known. Community members would have the opportunity to ask park staff questions, learn about what has happened with the endeavor in recent months and share their thoughts on the project.
Some land and business owners around the corridor have voiced concerns about security and agriculture if the project proceeds.
Harris said MoRIT has contracted with the University of Missouri Extension to do an economic development study for the proposed trail, similar to one the Extension did for the Katy Trail. Connecting the two trails would make a loop around the state for walking, biking and horseback riding.