Guests, visitors welcomed to Rock Island Trail Groundbreaking Ceremony

By Roxie Murphy, Assistant Editor
Posted 4/10/24

Friends of the Rock Island Trail (FoRIT) in conjunction with the city of Owensville hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday for the Rock Island Trail State Park that will run 2.5 miles through the …

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Guests, visitors welcomed to Rock Island Trail Groundbreaking Ceremony


Friends of the Rock Island Trail (FoRIT) in conjunction with the city of Owensville hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday for the Rock Island Trail State Park that will run 2.5 miles through the city from the Kosark Road to the Gasconade County R-2 School District campus.

“Five communities, $5 million, 13 miles of trail,” said Dru Buntin, Missouri Department of Natural Resources director. “Support and passion for the trail will encourage other communities to follow through.”

The city of Owensville is spending $500,000 in Transportation Alternative Grant funds along with $100,000 of city money to build the 2.5-mile section of the trail.

“This will allow for safe routes to school and all kids will have access,” Buntin said. “Sections will be completed over the next several years. Community support will continue to be imperative. This is not possible without backing from the community.”

Buntin said he grew up on the Katy Trail as it was being built.

“I took for granted that the Katy had always been there,” Buntin said. “Missouri already has the longest rail trail. This will drive other connections to communities off the corridor.”

Chrysa Niewald, founder of FoRIT, formerly Missouri Rock Island Trail (MoRIT), was present to assist with the trail dedication. Niewald was one of the first local community members who petitioned Ameren Missouri, the former railroad owner, to donate the rail line to the state.

“I used to tell people I hope I can ride the trail on a bicycle and not a wheelchair,” she told the crowd of around 100 celebrators. “I still feel that. I recently had hip replacement surgery. I have been at this a long time. So hurry up and start building!”

The crowed laughed and clapped in agreement.

Niewald pointed to Rep. Bruce Sassmann of the 61st District and said he and his wife Jan Sassmann had been trail supporters long before her.

“In 1993 the Sassmanns worked for the trail the first time,” she said. “They tried again with me in 2009.”

John Kamler proclaimed Niewald and others were true heroes of the trail.

Jerry Lairmore, Gasconade County Southern District Commissioner, said towns can work to connect with each other. Once Owensville is completed, they can work toward Rosebud.

“Then in the next couple of years we can continue the other way,” Lairmore said.

Lairmore also congratulated the city of Gerald for the work completed on their portion of the trail.

“No one has worked harder than Chrysa on this,” Lairmore said.

Travis Hernandez, the city’s engineer from Archer-Elgin Surveying and Engineering was also present.

“I truly believe the trail is a great thing,” Hernandez told the crowd which overflowed the meeting room and hallway at Owensville City Hall.

Kim Henderson, vice president of FoRIT, works directly with Niewald. She is also a business owner at the crossroads of the Katy Trail and Rock Island Trail in Windsor. She owns Kim’s Cabins and sees visitors from all over the world.

“I can’t tell you how glad you will be,” Henderson told the crowd.

City Administrator Randy Blaske read a Proclamation “In Recognition of Chrysa Niewald” in honor of work on the Rock Island Rail-to-Trail State Park.

“Whereas, Chrysa Niewald and others began working on the trail project with other interested citizens to discuss the potential trail on the Rock Island Corridor in 2009; and Whereas, Chrysa Niewald has been unwavering in her efforts and an amazing leader in all aspects through the years with this project and spent many tireless hours for research and discussions with Ameren Missouri, State Parks and Rails to Trails; and Whereas, Missouri Rock Island Trail (MoRIT) was founded in 2014 in which Chrysa Niewald was the first president and served as president through 2017; and Whereas, in December 2016, Gov. Jay Nixon and Ameren announced the state will accept the Rock Island Corridor after clearing the ties and rails, which was completed in 2019; and Now therefor, I, John Kamler, by virtue of authority vested in me as mayor of Owensville, Missouri, and on behalf of the city of Owensville and its citizens, extend a warm congratulations to Chrysa Niewald in celebration of the ground-breaking of the Owensville Section of the Rock Island Trail State Park. I want to honor Chrysa Niewald for all her efforts to make this day possible.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the Seal of the City of Owensville, in the State of Missouri, this 5th day of April 2024.”

Following Niewald’s acceptance, she recognized guests and visitors she felt contributed to the trail on behalf of FoRIT, including:

• John Kameler, mayor of Owensville;

• Keven McFadden, newly elected mayor and previously a Ward 1 alderman;

• Staff at Owensville City Hall;

• Travis Hernandez, Archer-Elgin Engineering;

• Rep. Bruce Sassmann;

• Gasconade County Commissioner Jerry Lairmore;

• Dru Buntin, director of Department of Natural Resources;

• David Kelley, director of Missouri State Parks;

• Ron Bentch and Clint Barnett, Rock Island Trail Development Coordinators; and,

• The Gasconade County Republican.