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Perspective: Showing the world the best trail experience

by Mark Schaeperkoetter | January 12, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. | Updated March 20, 2018 at 6:12 p.m.

I would like to point out some facts the recent News Tribune story "Opposition to Rock Island Trail 'up against Goliath'" failed to address.

The St. Louis, Kansas City and Colorado Railroad purchased land along the 144-mile corridor from 1900-04. A few contiguous land owners were so desirous to have the railroad run through their land that they gave a "dollar deed" to the railroad.

For $1 the owner gave a 100 feet or more wide strip of land over his property to have the railroad as his neighbor on one or both sides of the right-of-way. Other landowners either negotiated a price or went to court to have the value of their land determined by court appointed officials.

By today's standards those amounts would seem small but when the amounts are converted to today's dollar, these tracts sold for thousands of dollars an acre. Every tract of land was taken in fee simple by the railroad either by seller's willingness or by court order. Four-hundred feet right-of-ways are not uncommon due to the arc of roadbed, in towns for sidings and railroad appurtenances, the extreme height of a fill or where some of the soaring bridges were built.

The opposition to the corridor being rail- banked was backed by the Farm Bureau. I believe most people with political acumen consider the Missouri Farm Bureau to swing a large mallet. They have a powerful lobbying arm with ample money to sway legislators' opinion and convince those that aren't conciliatory their next election might be more difficult. In my humble opinion, the Farm Bureau is Goliath and the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. is David without a sling-shot. It has no lobbying money, it has no lobbyist but it does have a passionate grassroots membership, a board of directors and an executive director whose sole mission is to promote economic development along the corridor.

I Googled Biosecurity and Bird Flu and found no cases transmitted by a bicyclist.

The National Trails System Act was passed in 1983 when Congress became concerned railroad corridors were being abandoned at such alarming rates that future crisis may not be addressed without this law.

The act is sort of like "love and marriage." If a pair of lovers (a railroad and a trail group) agree to marry an out-of-service rail corridor and take the trail's name, this is permitted until any railroad in the future wants to reopen the corridor. "They go together like a horse and carriage." Very few conversions exist between such important rail hubs as St. Louis and Kansas City.

Recent economic development along the 144 miles is nearly nonexistent. Most towns would likely prefer a profitable railroad, the jobs they bring and the potential for future industry but this has not happened in the last 40 years and may never happen again driving the communities in the corridor to opt for a trail and the tourists these bring.

Roughly 60 percent of the 144 miles in the corridor is adjacent to state maintained highways and at least 15 miles is within city limits, making law enforcement close at hand and trained to handle much more serious threats than someone on a bicycle wearing a helmet and carrying a backpack. Additionally, very few of the contiguous landowners are descendants of the original landowners who sold their land to the railroad. In other words, very few, if any, of the current opposition should have bought their land without knowing the railroad was a neighbor.

Thirty years ago protection of bats and a budget deficit were the enemy of the opposition, today they are bosom buddies. Encroachment for profit was their friend, now they don't want others to encroach on their encroachment. Very few buildings preceded the railroad.

Constitutionally, certain funds are set aside for trail use in the state of Missouri. They cannot be used for any maintenance purpose. Missouri has a propensity not to increase taxes beyond their current limits, if state parks have maintenance issues, use fees at these parks must be increased to address them. Designated trail money can't be used for bridges, potholes or building repairs, other funds are designated to cover these. Those of us interested in our community's economic growth are not against anyone but we can't be for everyone.

However, all along the trail, I can promise everyone this: We simply want to allow our community to be more than they are currently, partner with other entities to make the trail a reality, be the eyes and ears to make our area safe as it is now for everyone, be friendly to our new friends from the world over and let them know we are from the Show Me State and we intend to show them the world's best trail experience.

Mark Schaeperkoetter is a member of the Missouri Rock Island Trail and owns two lots contiguous to the right-of-way on the trail. His comments represent his own views, as he is personally working for the trail as an opportunity of additional development for all towns concerned.

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