As Missouri Rethinks the Rock Island Trail, A Small Town Frets Over Losing An Economic Lifeline | KCUR

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Ever since the Rock Island railway ceased operations in the 1980s, the town of Belle in central Missouri has been an isolated pocket, far from any city or major highway that might bring business through town.

“You’ve heard the term ‘one-horse town’? We’re pretty much there,” says Richard Huse, who grew up in Belle and is now a town alderman. “We’re 1,500 people. And like all the small communities around here, we struggle.”

About four years ago, when Belle residents heard about plans to convert the abandoned railway into a bike trail, they saw an opportunity: a chance to become an oasis for cyclists passing through.

The plans called for the old railroad line to become a 144-mile rails-to-trails project spanning most of the state and dipping through the northern edge of the Ozarks.

The trail would loop with the Katy Trail, another rails-to-trails project mostly completed in the mid-1990s. Combined, the two trails would create one of the longest cycling paths in the country.

Belle community leaders worked with government agencies to get funding for the part of the trail running through their town and laid out plans for an ambitious community improvement plan. . . .

So Belle mayor Steve Vogt says he was a little frustrated earlier this year when state officials told him the new administration of Gov. Eric Greitens was reconsidering the trail and that the town should hold off on construction.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” Vogt says. “We’ve got great weather. We could really be making hay on it right now.” . . .

“The trail would be one of the best things that ever happened to this community,” Schaller says. “For every negative comment or feeling that you get about the trail, you’re going to have many, many more positive ones.”

Sutherland says the department will likely take comments through the end of July, but there’s no timetable for a decision.

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Please join us and other trail supporters from around the state and nation for a Rock Island Trail Rally at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

The Rally is 8:30am on Friday, August 11th, 2017. More info: