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Proposed hiking, biking trail draws mixed response

by Kasia Kovacs/For the News Tribune | January 24, 2015 at 5:50 a.m. | Updated December 1, 2016 at 4:23 p.m.

WESTPHALIA, Mo. - Mid-Missourians crowded into the Knights of Columbus Hall on Thursday night to discuss and, more often than not, challenge a proposal to convert the old Rock Island railroad bed into a hiking and biking trail.

The 145-mile pathway across Central Missouri spans from Windsor to Beaufort. Currently the property of Ameren Corp., the corridor has not been used since the mid-20th century.

Advocate groups propose the railroad bed be turned into a trail for hiking and biking. The authorization to convert the railway is pending approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation Surface Board.

However, many landowners at Thursday's meeting were not convinced a recreational trail is the best use of the corridor. They raised questions to a panel of representatives from Ameren, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Missouri Farm Bureau and the national Rails to Trails conservatory.

The landowners voiced concerns about privacy, and several hoped the railway property would revert to the landowners.

Alan Reinkemeyer, a resident of St. Thomas, bought several hundred acres of land around St. Elizabeth to create a weekend hunting retreat.

"We spent over $25,000 (on) our property. We got our stand set up along this rail corridor," Reinkemeyer said. "We're going to lose all that."

Landowners and neighbors of the corridor are also worried about increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic, access to land for livestock, restrictions to motor vehicle access and biosecurity, said Leslie Holloway, director of regulatory affairs at the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Proponents argue the trail, which would loop with the Katy Trail, would boost bicycle tourism and commercial development in Missouri towns with economies that were formerly driven by the railroads.

Keith Laughlin, president of Rails to Trails conservancy encouraged attendees to "look at the opportunity of transforming the 145-mile corridor between Beaufort and Windsor that hasn't seen train traffic in 30 years into an asset that boosts the economy of every community that it will pass through."

The proposed plan would not do away with the railway itself. Instead, it calls for railbanking, so the railway still would have the possibility to reinstate train traffic.

"Without interim trail use, there's no future potential for rail service," said Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks.

Another point of contention was whether the economic benefits would outweigh the cost of the trail.

"If nothing else, there needs to be a lot more discussion and a lot more explanation about what the economic impact might actually be of this trail," Holloway said.

She cited a meeting with the Department of Natural Resources, which predicted the Rock Island trail would attract one-fourth of the traffic the Katy Trail currently receives.

Attendees also questioned how much taxpayer money would contribute to the cost of the trail.

"There was a significant amount of private funding for the Katy Trail State Park, and I think we have opportunities to consider that here," Bryan said. "If the trail is built, it can be built with public-private partnerships to the fullest possible extent."

However, Bryan acknowledged plans for the Rock Island Trail are too early in development to make any definitive statements on funding.

The Department of Natural Resources plans to schedule more public forums for Missouri residents as the discussion on the Rock Island Trail continues.


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