Trail supporters frustrated with contingency, raise money

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 12/31/19

While many Rock Island Trail supporters are rejoicing in the recent Interim Trail Use agreement between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Ameren UE on the 144 miles of the former Rock …

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Trail supporters frustrated with contingency, raise money

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While many Rock Island Trail supporters are rejoicing in the recent Interim Trail Use agreement between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Ameren UE on the 144 miles of the former Rock Island line, they remain frustrated that the acceptance comes with a contingency.

“So, they have signed the Interim Trail Use Agreement, but it doesn’t fully transfer the property until the contingencies are filled, as far as Missouri State Parks is concerned,” said Greg Harris, executive director of Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc (MoRIT).

The acceptance of the trail is generally encouraging, but frustrating too.

“It looks like communities will not be able to proceed with any development until full contingencies are in place,” Harris explained.

The primary contingency being that the state of Missouri must receive $9.8 million in gift donations — the amount that State Parks says it will cost them to accept the trail over the next 10 years — by the end of 2021.

To achieve their goal, State Parks has hired Hartsook, an outside fundraising company that is confident they can achieve the goal.

Rails-To-Trails Conservancy has also hosted match fundraisers to help with trail projects in 2020, some of which are expected to benefit the Rock Island line.

“We are encouraged by all of this,” Harris wrote in MoRIT’s monthly newsletter. “But, even if this likely arrangement with Missouri State Parks were to fall apart we will press on. We will not rest until the Rock Island Trail is a reality.

Towns like Owensville who have the funds and volunteer labor to proceed with the trail that resides within the city limits are waiting on “go” in the meantime, while the foundation raises funds to meet the contingency.

The Rock Island line is not officially held by State Parks yet, and the property is still not open to the public, but the funds raised by the state-hired Hartsook are being held in the Rock Island State Park Endowment Fund. The fund was created in 2019 when the bill passed nearly unanimously in both the Missouri House and Senate.

“The legislation is important for two reasons,” said Harris, “it created a fund that can accept monies from virtually any source that can only be used for the Rock Island Trail State Park, and it sent a clear signal that legislators expect the trail to happen.”

While Hartsook continues to attempt to raise $9.8 million over the next two years, and communities who could proceed are waiting to develop their own trails, the first 47 miles of the Rock Island line already developed between Pleasant Hill and Windsor continue to prosper.

“We have come so far,” Harris said. “On December 10, 2016, the first 47 miles of the Rock Island opened as part of the Katy Trail State Park.”

The Rock Island Katy Spur has continued to bring economic success to the region in the last four years.

“Windsor has gone from being able to sleep 17 to more than 70 now. New lodging businesses include Kim’s Cabins, Katy/Rock Junction, Fitzgerel’s Nightly Rentals, Broken Spoke Nightly Rental, and Windsor Quarter House,” Harris wrote in the MoRIT release. “Farrington Park enjoyed a 400 percent increase in occupancy in 2017, according to the Windsor Chamber of commerce. That’s not just a doubling, it’s a quadrupling!”

That is not including the new restaurants in the area. According to Harris, the developed communities realize that the continuance of the trail would only bring more economic growth to their areas.

“Our organization was founded by enthusiasts. We are encouraged by the progress we have made in 2019, and we are strengthened by our many excited supporters and more  than 7,000 following our Facebook page.”

Harris said in order to meet the $9.8 million contingency, they have already begun fundraising.

“To further speed development, we want and need you to be part of the process,” he says of the general public. “Become more than just an observer by joining MoRIT today or by making an additional gift at https://rockislandtrail.org/donate/.”

Harris said these are exciting times for the Rock Island Trail.

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