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story.lead_photo.caption This May 31, 2012 photo shows the former Rock Island Railroad line in Eldon.

The Rock Island Corridor Authority has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) to help create the Greenwood Connector, the final 8-mile trail segment to complete a statewide trail connecting St. Louis to Kansas City via the existing Katy Trail and proposed Rock Island Trail (RIT).

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The Rock Island Corridor Authority leads the multi-jurisdiction coalition working on the Greenwood Connector. It was one of 10 grant recipients through the Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund, which was established in 2015 to advance projects intended to enhance public health and regional connectivity through transportation. RTC received almost $5.5 million in application requests for 2018 grants from all over the nation.

This is the second Doppelt grant that went to a RIT-related project. Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MORIT) received $7,500 in 2015 to support trail development, which Executive Director Greg Harris said went a long way to get the nonprofit trail proponet coalition off the ground.

The Rock Island Trail is a proposed rails-to-trails conservancy project in which former railroads are converted into recreational trails to preserve the railways in case there is a need to re-install rails in the future. The utility company, Ameren, offered to donate the 144-mile closed railway to create a trail that could link with the existing Katy Trail through the Greenwood Connector to form the largest recreation trail loop in the nation. The Missouri State Parks Department would be responsible for constructing and maintaining the Rock Island Trail and subsequent trail loop. The department is expected to decide by December whether to accept or deny the donation. The parks department is already operating on a very tight budget and has been evaluating how to best fund the project before accepting the land donation.

Harris said he was thrilled MORIT's peer organization, the Rock Island Corridor Authority, received the grant, which helps show the Missouri Parks Department will not be alone in funding the trail loop. "Grants are critical to developing trails," he said. "This shows that there is a lot of funding out there for these projects. It doesn't all have to come out of the state parks' budget."

Eli Griffen, Doppelt Fund grant program manager and RTC's manager of trail development resources, said obtaining funding for trail maintenance and development can be a frustrating experience for trail managers. "This grant program provides important resources communities need — in some cases, raising awareness of a project within the community, and in others, maintaining trails or providing the match funding necessary to acquire a corridor and build the trail," Griffen said.

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