Missouri's "internationally significant" Rock Island Trail is now open! Photos and a new major article by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy about trail's history--and future

In celebration of the Grand Opening Saturday of the first 47.5 miles of the Rock Island Trail State Park, connecting the Katy Trail to the Kansas City metro area, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has published a major article about the Rock Island Trail, with many details about its history and future:

Governor Nixon cuts the ribbon to open Rock Island Trail State Park
Governor Nixon, State Parks Director Bill Bryan, Darwin Hindman, and others cut the ribbon on the new 47.5 mile section of Rock Island Trail State Park

Just in time for the holidays, a stunning new rail-trail has arrived in Missouri. Opening Dec. 10, the 47.5-mile Rock Island Trail State Park is notable for its length—and its connection to an even longer trail: the renowned Katy Trail State Park, which, at 237.7 miles, nearly crosses the entire state. While the Katy Trail stops short of Kansas City, a forthcoming extension of the Rock Island Trail will march right to the city’s doorstep, making it possible to utilize both trails to travel between the state’s two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, without a car.

“For Missouri to have the Katy Trail, which is absolutely iconic, and then to have the chance to do it again with the Rock Island Trail and have them connected: that’s unprecedented,” says Eric Oberg, director of trail development for RTC’s Midwest Regional Office. “Rail-trails of this scale are few and far between anymore.” . . .

A future extension of the Rock Island Trail will push the trail 144 miles eastward from Windsor, where the two trails could meet again near Washington, forming a loop that will make it possible to take a trip on the Katy Trail one way and the Rock Island Trail on the way back. Due to the massive scale of such a loop, Oberg calls it an “internationally significant experience.”  . . .

“The geography of the Rock Island Trail is very different than the Katy Trail,” says Chrysa Niewald, board president of Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), a group of local citizens who are leading the grassroots push for the creation of the trail. “It makes it a unique opportunity. You could do a complete loop with one kind of scenery and come back through different scenery.” . . .

The bridge over the Gasconade River will be a highlight of the Rock Island Trail
The bridge over the Gasconade River near Freeburg spans 1,776 feet and will be a highlight of a future section of the Rock Island Trail | Courtesy Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc.

Cutting the ribbon will be Gov. Jay Nixon, who rides the Katy Trail almost daily. In a touching connection, Bryan notes that, when the governor was a young state senator, he cast the deciding vote to fund the Katy Trail. The celebration of the Rock Island Trail State Park and the promise of more to come are a happy ending for a year that has just ticked past the 2,000th open rail-trail in the nation.

“The trail is coming together in an astonishing way,” says [Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation Executive Director Brent] Hugh, echoing the sentiment felt by many. “I almost can’t believe it’s really happening.”

The entire article is well worth a read--it's packed with information about the history, future, and significance of Missouri's Rock Island Trail to the state and to the communities along the trail.

See a gallery of photos from Saturday's Rock Island Trail Grand Opening here.

More about Missouri's Rock Island Trail--and the many segments of the trail currently under construction and in planning--on our Rock Island Trail page.

 Walking, biking, and rolling our new trail at the Grand Opening 

Supporting a world-class statewide trails system that reaches every Missouri community is one of the goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for  Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. The opening of this new 47.5-mile segment of the Rock Island Trail is one of the most significant steps forward in accomplishing that vision. Many thanks go to the leaders, organizations, communities, citizens--and MoBikeFed members--who have worked hard to turn the trail from vision to reality.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality.  Thank you!

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