The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has been granted more time to decide if it will accept the Rock Island Railroad corridor to redevelop as the Rock Island Trail.
The Surface Transportation Board, whose federal involvement provides oversight to railroads and abandoned rail lines, granted the department's 180-day extension request, making the new deadline Aug. 20. The former deadline was Feb. 21.
The 144-mile abandoned railroad stretch is being donated by Ameren. If accepted, it would become the Rock Island Trail, requiring maintenance from Missouri State Parks.
DNR and Missouri Central Railroad Company submitted the extension request Jan. 17 during the partial federal government shutdown, which ended Jan. 25.
A major supporter of the project, which would create a loop connecting to the Katy Trail, is a coalition of businesses, organizations and citizens known as Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc.
MoRIT Executive Director Greg Harris said the organization suspects since this is the shortest extension recently requested, DNR might be close to a decision. Three of the four previous extensions were for one-year periods.
Mike Sutherland, Missouri State Parks deputy director of administration, said the department is happy the decision to grant the extension was made quickly.
"We think the amount of time will be enough to continue our discussion and get to a point where we can get to a decision," Sutherland said. "We are committed to not taking away resources from the rest of our system to take on this responsibility."
Sutherland noted DNR and Missouri Central Railroad Company plan to maintain their current momentum on having discussions to come to an agreement.
The proposed trail would place a state park close to Mid-Missouri towns like Eldon, Versailles, Meta and Owensville. MoRIT plans to offer a spotlight "Jewel Series" to highlight unrecognized spots along the proposed trail like restaurants and event spaces.
An event at the German Table restaurant in Cole Camp is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 19. Guests can purchase a buffet meal, and 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward MoRIT operations. A question-and-answer session and presentation will follow the dinner.
"Many of these towns are places where people may have heard of them but had no reason to really go to town," Harris said. "We're going to use the next six months to make clear what a historic gift Ameren's 144-mile gift is to the state of Missouri."