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Missouri takes ownership of Rock Island Corridor 

  

ELDON, Mo. — After decades of negotiation and advocacy, state officials Tuesday announced Missouri is taking ownership of the Rock Island Corridor, which is set to be converted into a hiking and biking trail. 

The announcement is the last step in the 144-mile project’s right-of-way process. While $2.7 million is on its way to the project from the Department of Economic Development and about $1 million has been donated, Gov. Mike Parson said the General Assembly would bolster the project through upcoming appropriations. 

“I really believe the Rock Island Trail State Park will make a great addition to our state and complement our Katy Trail Park system,” Parson said. “We’re in Eldon today to kick this off, but think of what this trail is going to do for the state of Missouri. If we have to invest millions of dollars in this project from the state level, I believe with the help of the legislature we’re going to make that investment, whatever it takes to get that done and make this a complete project.”

Parson said the development of the trail should have a similar economic impact as the Katy Trail, which brings in more than 400,000 visitors and $18 million in revenue annually. 

The state’s trail system as a whole contributes more than $500 million a year and stands to grow exponentially, according to a study by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy (RTC). 

The Rock Island Line ran through the Midwest for more than a century before shutting down in 1980. The corridor was donated to the state by Ameren, a transfer that saw more than 50,000 comments in support, according to the RTC. 

Parson was joined by representatives from RTC, Ameren, the Department of Natural Resources, and local legislators at the Rock Island Park in Eldon, once home to a depot along the railway. 

“I am excited about this. It’s a great day for the Eldon area and all of the corridor towns along the Rock Island Trail,” Eldon Rep. Willard Haley told The Missouri Times. “It’s been a long time coming, and as a landowner adjacent to the trail, I think it will be an improvement to our economy in these towns it passes through. It will lead to great things for these communities, especially Eldon.”

While state officials and the community are backing the project, Haley noted there were concerns among landowners and agricultural groups. 

“It remains to be seen whether terms of the agreement between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Ameren calling for $9.8 million in public, private, and corporate funding to cover initial development costs will be met,” Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said in a statement. “We remain opposed to the use of taxpayer funds for trail conversion. We will work to ensure landowners’ fencing needs and property rights are addressed in accordance with state law.”

The Missouri Legislature passed a bill in 2018 creating the Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment to accept donations and grants for the trail, and additional federal funds are set to be appropriated in the coming years: The bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law by President Joe Biden last month included an increase to the state’s annual Transportation Alternatives (TA) program. The yearly allocation will increase from $18.6 million to an estimated $31.6 million, according to the RTC. 

Parks and trails skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic with a 14 percent increase in visitors over the past two years, according to Missouri State Parks Director David Kelly

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