A fourth extension on a decision to accept the 144-mile Rock Island corridor for trail development could help secure more funding, as well as determine if the Department of Natural Resources is the right trail manager for the project.
The corridor is owned by Ameren, which is interested in donating it to DNR for trail use. On Wednesday, the deadline for a decision on the donation was extended 133 days, until Dec. 31.
"We are really anticipating that we will come to a conclusion and get to a point where we either sign an agreement or we don't before Dec. 31," Missouri State Parks Deputy Director Mike Sutherland said.
State Parks contain 91 locations of sites and parks, including the Katy Trail, a 240-mile former corridor. If adopted, the development of the Rock Island Trail would connect to the Katy Trail, creating a 400-mile loop in the state for walking, biking or horseback riding.
A major reason the division is cautious to accept Ameren's donation is to not take away from the current sites, Sutherland said.
"All along, we have talked about the significant financial responsibilities that acceptance of the corridor would require," he said. "In addition to that, we are committed to not taking away from the rest of our great system."
The organization is working with the Missouri State Parks Foundation, whose focus is to help raise funds for state park projects.
"We don't want to sign an agreement and accept management and it not be successful," Sutherland said. That process would ensure the possibility of partnerships and funding that would make sure the trail is a success, he said.
"We're taking this time during the extension to explore if that's a possibility, what the chances of success of that would be," he said. " This is another step in getting to a point where we're comfortable with the agreement and comfortable that we have a plan forward."
The Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment Fund, SB196, was signed by Gov. Mike Parson. The fund will allow individuals and organizations to donate to the trail.
The bill was created to help Missouri Department of Natural Resources award grants to preserve, protect or restore historic courthouses. Sen. Mike Bernshoetter, R-Jefferson City, added the donations for the 144-mile rail corridor. The bill goes into effect Aug. 28.
Funds there would need to be appropriated by the Legislature, Sutherland said.
The organization was previously granted an extension of Aug. 20 to accept the segment which could bring development to areas such as Eldon, Freeburg and Versailles, proponents say.
Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., a coalition of businesses, organizations and citizens supporting the project, want to do everything they can for state parks to be the trail manager, Executive Director Greg Harris said.
"We are hopeful that Missouri State Parks will accept Ameren's generous gift of 144 miles of former Rock Island Railroad corridor by the end of this year. We expect that partnerships, charitable gifts and government grants will be equally critical to this project's success."