With the Feb. 21 deadline approaching for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to accept the Rock Island Railroad corridor, the DNR has submitted an 180-day extension request for more time.
"We've been having discussions and working toward a potential agreement, and with the deadline of Feb. 21 fast approaching, we thought that it would make sense to have the request for the extension," said Mike Sutherland, Missouri State Parks deputy director of administration.
The 144-mile abandoned stretch being donated by Ameren would become the Rock Island Trail, requiring maintenance from Missouri State Parks. If adopted, the section from Windsor to Beaufort would connect to the Katy Trail creating a loop around the state for walking, biking and horseback riding.
The extension request was submitted Jan. 17 to the Surface Transportation Board, whose federal involvement provides oversight to railroads and abandoned rail lines. The board has not been operating because of the partial government shutdown, which ended Friday.
Extending the deadline to Aug. 20 would allow Missouri Central Railroad Company and DNR more time to come to an agreement. Previously, four extensions have been accepted, three of which were one-year periods.
Sutherland said DNR received a confirmation of their submission but has not received a response at this time. If DNR doesn't hear from the board, he added, they don't have a backup plan at this time.
"We're fairly confident the extension will be granted," Sutherland said.
Supporters of the trail development, such as Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., said they support the extension. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy representatives noted continued conversations don't mean a victory for the proposed trail.
"It is promising that the state has taken the necessary action to allow negotiations over the Rock Island Trail to continue, but our work is far from over," RTC President Keith Laughlin said in a news release. "The Rock Island corridor represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a world-class trail system for Missouri. We will continue to make clear the invaluable economic and tourism benefits that this corridor represents, and we will hold up the voices of the tens of thousands who want this trail. We are committed to seeing the state accept the corridor."
MoRIT Executive Director Greg Harris said the organization is pleased and hopeful about continued conversation.
"If Missouri State Parks was not going to be accepting before Feb. 21, this is the best second choice to keep the timetable up so that it can be accepted at a later time," Harris said. " We will be looking at other alternatives, but clearly, the very best trail management would be DNR."