20 mile rail to trail conversion possible in SE Missouri--until July 3rd!

If local forces organize and take action by July 3rd, a rare opportunity for a rail-trail conversion near Jackson & Cape Girardeau could become reality--and if not, the opportunity will be lost forever.

Trail connections in Missouri - but none in southeastern Missouri!
Trail connections in Missouri - but none in southeastern Missouri!


Rail-trails are on a bit of roll in Missouri--but so far, southeastern Missouri has no rail trails at all. A blogger at the Southeast Missouri has found an excellent opportunity for rail trail near Jackson and Cape Girardeau--and lays out the case for converting the corridor to a trail:

[H]ow difficult would it be to tackle a rail-to-trail project? And would it make practical sense?

I've been studying this topic for a couple weeks. In a nutshell, it's doable, and it does make sense. But it would require a well-coordinated grass-roots effort to act within a very tight schedule.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the main advocacy group for these projects, publisheshow-to guides for building rail-trails. Two of these, Secrets of Successful Rail-Trails andAcquiring Rail Corridors, outline the process in step-by-step fashion. . . .

At first glance, a Gordonville to Delta trail would appear to be out in the "middle of nowhere" without connecting to anything. But what if the trail could be built all the way to Jackson, running alongside the remaining tracks of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern tourist railroad? This would be a "rails-with-trails" project, a concept that has been gaining popularity in recent years. The city of Jackson, which has been working to build additional recreational trails, would find itself at the terminus of the longest dedicated bicycle trail in Southeast Missouri. . . . 

 

The Diversion Channel bridge would also serve as an emergency route for reaching the town of Allenville during floods. This is a lifeline that Allenville residents have used "countless" times in the past. With a rail-trail, this access would still be available. In fact, it would be better, since the steel bridge would be improved and made safer.

I've compiled these arguments in favor and against a rail-trail project:

Pros

  • Excellent recreational opportunity for the area, one that may never come along again
  • As the only rail-trail in Southeast Missouri, would provide a tourism boost
  • Solves the problem of providing a bicycle and pedestrian route across the Diversion Channel
  • Keeps the Allenville Bridge available for use during flooding
  • Preserves a piece of local history, especially the bridge at Allenville
  • Provides a much-needed economic boost for Delta, Allenville, and Dutchtown
  • Passes through scenic rural countryside

Cons

  • Bridges need serious work; unclear how much it would cost to repair
  • Stretch from Allenville to Dutchtown is flood prone, driving up maintenance costs
  • Towns along route offer few amenities for trail users
  • Wouldn't connect to any other trails, parks, or recreation areas (except maybe for fishing along the Diversion Channel)
  • Leaves the Jackson tourist railroad isolated from the rest of the U.S. rail network (but this would happen anyway if the tracks are removed as planned)
  • Lack of major attractions (tunnels, depots, rock formations, etc.) that are typically found along rail-trail projects

In parts of the country criss-crossed by many rail-trails, this particular project may not look too appealing since it has limited attractions and amenities. But right now Southeast Missouri doesn't have anything like this, so the Jackson railroad represents a huge opportunity. With no other suitable projects on the horizon, this might be the only chance within our lifetimes to construct a major long-distance trail near Cape Girardeau. We need to seize the day!

Read more, see a map of the route, or contact the blog author here.