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story.lead_photo.caption Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Trailblazers enter a 1903 tunnel that runs beneath Eugene on the former Rock Island Line corridor. Photo by Allen Fennewald / News Tribune.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri Central Railroad have been approved to extend negotiations on 144 miles of the former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad corridor stretching from Windsor to Beaufort.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved the request that sought an additional 133 days to negotiate an agreement to railbank that corridor, according to a news release Wednesday from Missouri State Parks.

"This will allow the time for potential partnerships to be explored and developed by the Missouri State Park Foundation," Mike Sutherland, deputy division director of Missouri State Parks, said in the news release.

"We are glad the Surface Transportation Board has granted the time to fully explore interest," Sutherland added.

As part of the request, an emphasis was put on the creation of the Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment Fund, which allows deposited funds to help the department in securing and assessing the corridor.

"The Missouri State Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization established for the purpose of supporting the Missouri state park system, is developing a fundraising strategy for the project, but requires time to finalize those plans. The request reiterated that Missouri State Parks and the Missouri Central Railroad Company are working toward the goal of signing an Interim Trail Use Agreement in the future," according to the news release.

"We are excited for the Missouri State Park Foundation to take a role in developing support for the project," said Dru Buntin, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources.

"The foundation will be critical in bringing together the non-governmental partners that an undertaking of this size will require," Buntin added.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Central Railroad Company have until Dec. 31 to enter into an Interim Trail Use Agreement and provide notice of that agreement to the Surface Transportation Board.

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