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Governor's proposed funding could speed up Rock Island Trail project

by Ella McCarthy | January 27, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
This May 31, 2012 photo shows the former Rock Island Railroad line in Eldon.

Stretching more than 140 miles from Beaufort to Windsor, early stages of planning for the highly anticipated Rock Island Corridor in Missouri are underway.

As part of Gov. Mike Parson's proposed plan for the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, $69.3 million would go toward the construction of a 78-mile section of the trail from Eugene to Beaufort, including two tunnels and two bridges.

It is currently the highest proposed spending amount on tourism in the governor's plan followed by local tourism asset development at $50 million and state fairgrounds arena and grounds improvement at $43.1 million.

"By investing $69 million dollars to start construction on the Rock Island trail, we can help establish the largest circular rail-to-trail network in the United States and a world-class, one of-a-kind destination for travelers coming to Missouri ... while also supporting businesses and creating jobs," Parson said Jan. 19 in his State of the State address.

If approved, the proposed funding would "have a positive impact on the timeline of the development of the trail and allow us to start construction sooner," said Miranda Fredrick, division information officer with Missouri State Parks.

The trail will pass through several Mid- Missouri cities, such as Versailles, Eldon, Eugene, Meta, Argyle, Freeburg, Belle and Bland.

"The Rock Island Trail actually passes through a little less than three miles of the city limits, it's right through the center of town," said Don Smith, city administrator of Eldon. "And fortunately, our main recreational park for the city sits adjacent to the Rock Island Trail. Our thought is that it will become a major trailhead for the entire trail as a whole."

Smith said he expects the trail to get a lot of use from city residents but also see visitors using it as well.

"I think where the trailhead is located, actually, is ideal for people being able to access, either by bike or by walking, the rest of the city and the downtown area," he said.

In Eugene, the proposed trail would run south of the intersection of Market and Railway streets, according to an interactive map on the Missouri State Parks website.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accepted ownership of the corridor in December after the Missouri Central Railroad Company, a subsidiary of Ameren Missouri, donated its right, title and interest in the corridor to to the state.

Similar to the development and construction of the 240-mile-long Katy Trail, the Rock Island Corridor is anticipated to be developed in different sections over several years. Construction of the Katy Trail began in 1987 and the first section of the recreational pathway was opened three years later in Rocheport.

"It's odd that it's, you know, a 144-mile-by-50-foot-wide park. So, there's some complexities in development, that would not be the same as something that's 2 miles wide by 5 miles long," Smith said.

Missouri State Parks, a division of DNR, estimated on its website full development of the trail will cost around $100 million and will likely be a funded through a mix of private, public and corporate sources.

"We had a preliminary evaluation from the work group from Missouri State Parks here on Monday (Jan. 17)," Smith said. "They're looking along the trail in each community evaluating what each community has to offer."

The Missouri State Parks division has also held informational, open-house style meetings to provide more details about trail development and operations, public safety, landowner and real estate topics, grant opportunities and future partnership opportunities for interested parties.

"It is a feature for the city that's unique," Smith said. "It's an opportunity for people to come and ride the trail or come to Eldon and go either east or west and enjoy being outside with their friends or family."

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