Rock Island Trail Update

Jim Karpowicz

By Jim Karpowicz

The Rock Island Trail is a rails-to-trails project, over 200. Miles long, stretching from Beaufort, Missouri in the east to the town of Pleasant Hill, near Kansas City. Combined with the existing KATY Trail it would create a loop trail of over 450 miles, making the state of Missouri a premier cycling tourism destination. The western section of the trail has already been completed, connecting with the KATY Trail at Windsor, Missouri allowing for a unique cross-state experience for cyclists.

The prospects for the remaining 144 miles of the trail corridor seemed bright. But the politics of the day cast a shadow on that positive glow. In December of 2021, Governor Mike Parson announced that the State of Missouri would accept ownership of the trail from Ameren. Celebrating that milestone throughout the spring of 2022, Parson followed up with a proposed 69 million dollar investment that could revitalize the trail corridor, rebuild bridges and trestles, and bring in millions of essential economic development for the struggling small towns along its path. 

This was a good idea, or so it seemed. A win – win for the recreation minded public and a needed boost for the rural communities. And those would be Federal dollars, from the infrastructure investment packages triggered by the Covid 19 pandemic. The public was for it, the rural communities along the trails path were ecstatic. The Governor was on board; the House passed the budget legislation.

Then it got to the Senate.

Normally when the House and the Senate disagree, some sort of compromise is hammered out. This was different. Sighting maintenance backlogs in Missouri State Parks, the Senate cut all 69 million for the Rock Island Trail renovation from the state’s budget. From 69 million to zero, no middle ground. It seemed punitive to the Governor’s proposal and the hopeful communities along the trails path. 

Today, Missouri still retains ownership of the trail corridor. The Department of Natural Resources is working with local communities, who are heroically restoring their respective portions of the trail. One mile at a time.

But without serious investment in the infrastructure; the bridges and the trestles, the dream of a 450 mile loop trail through central Missouri remains on hold. And it likely will remain in a bureaucratic limbo until some measure of vision for this trail’s potential returns to the Missouri legislature.