Missouri towns see Rock Island line as another path to prosperity

Many Missouri business owners are preparing for the state to finish conversion of the former Rock Island Railway into a hiking and biking trail. “The trail would stretch about 200 miles in Missouri, from Pleasant Hill, a town half an hour southeast of Kansas City, to Beaufort in the south-central part of the state. It also might loop with the Katy Trail, creating 400 miles of the longest rail-converted trail system in the country.”

A year ago, the trail’s future was uncertain, but the Surface Transportation Board approved the transfer of the Rock Island corridor from Ameren Corp. to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in February. Now the greatest challenge is raising funds to build the trail as quickly as possible, said Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., a non-profit coalition of trail supporters.

The Rock Island project has invited comparisons to the Katy Trail, but the two trails are unique. The Katy Trail follows the Missouri River across the state and passes by larger cities such as Columbia.

In contrast, the Rock Island trail is more rural with varied terrain and long tunnels and bridges, including a mile-long bridge 100 feet above the Gasconade River. The Rock Island route also travels through the middle of small towns, which is not as common along the Katy.

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