Eldon Missouri announces trail plans along Rock Island Corridor

rock Island corridor through Eldon, photo credit Mac McNally.
rock Island corridor through Eldon, photo credit Mac McNally.
Mac McNally of the Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments contacted MoBikeFed with great news today: Ameren Missouri has given permission for the city of Eldon to build a section of trail alongside the Rock Island Railroad tracks through the city.

This is similar to a project announced a few years ago by the City of Windsor to create a city trail along the Rock Island corridor through Windsor, which will connect the Katy Trail, the Katy Trail/Rock Island Connector to Kansas City to a city park in Windsor.

The Department of Natural Resources project currently under construction to connect the Katy Trail at Windsor to Pleasant Hill, on the edge of the Kansas City metro area, extends the Rock Island in the other direction--northwest towards Kansas City.

Rock Island Line through Missouri
Rock Island Line through Missouri

But the new projects in Windsor and Eldon open up the possibility of another connection of statewide importance--to create a Rock Island Trail leading east through Windsor, Cole Camp, Versailles, Eldon, and even on to Owensville and Union.  By creating and signing on-road bicycle routes, numerous loops are possible between the Katy Trail and this eastern spur of the Rock Island Trail, for instance, loops starting and ending at Jefferson City, Hermann, and Washington.

According to the Missouri Blueways report, three of abandoned or unused rail lines connect the Katy and the Rock Island (see map below right)--reconnecdting to the Katy Trail at Sedalia, Booneville, and Jefferson City.  Is even one of those rail lines still available to be converted to a trail?

The addition of even a portion of the Rock Island Trail east from Windsor could start to build central Missouri into one of  the major trail destinations in the U.S., and the addition of any additional trail on on-road loop connections would only add more possibilities and increase tourism as well as local use.

Possible Jeff City-Windsor-Eldon-Jeff City loop
Possible Jeff City-Windsor-Eldon-Jeff City loop

More details about the project from McNally:

Ameren Missouri has brought a recreational trail through Eldon one step closer to reality by agreeing to allow use of the former Rock Island Railroad right of way for the project.

Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments is assisting the Eldon community with negotiations and construction of the trail. Mac McNally, LOCLG regional planner, has spearheaded the effort to turn the overgrown right of way into a community asset and economic development tool. McNally told the ad hoc Rock Island Trail Task Force this week that the Ameren decision clears the way for work to begin on the project.

“This has been an almost two-year effort,” McNally said. “Now we can move ahead, clear the right of way and begin to develop what will be a huge asset for the Eldon community.

McNally said the trail project began as part of an economic development effort to attract business and industry to Eldon. Businesses relocating to new communities are often interested in available recreation opportunities as a value for their employees.

Quad-State Trail System Proposal
Quad-State Trail System Proposal

As the project has moved forward, state Rep. Rodney Shad, the Eldon Chamber of Commerce and others have joined in the effort.

The Eldon right of way is approximately three miles long and is part of the larger Rock Island rail line which runs 245 miles from Maryland Heights, near St. Louis, to Pleasant Hill, near Kansas City. The Department of Natural Resources is currently constructing a 42-mile trail on the right of way between Windsor and Pleasant Hill that will connect to the cross-state Katy Trail. Federal Rails to Trails legislation allows for conversion of unused railroad right of ways to recreation use. Such corridors could revert to rail use in the future. Ameren Missouri acquired the Rock Island right of way in 1999 through the subsidiary Missouri Central Railroad in partnership with General Railway Corporation.

The Katy Trail, one of the most successful biking/hiking project in the nation, is an example of the conversion of rail lines to recreational use. The Katy run more than 200 miles along the Missouri River from St. I Charles to Clinton.

The task of developing the Eldon trail will now begin in earnest, McNally said. “We have gotten a commitment from AmeriCorps for manpower and are reaching out to the community for assistance with the project,” McNally said. “City officials have been very supportive as have various community groups and individuals.”

The task force will proceed while a formal trail organization is developed and details are worked out McNally said.

Members of the task force include Eldon City Administrator Frank Schoneboom, Mayor Ron Bly, Erik Svoboda of the Chamber of Commerce, school Superintendent Matt Davis, Michael Feeback of Lookout Point Consultants, Eldon city Councilwoman Sharon Harms, Daphney Partridge of PAVE AmeriCorps, Renee Pace and Paul Blanchard from the Eldon schools, Chris Foster, who owns property along right of way and Ed Bierbower.  

Congratulations to Mac, members of the Task Force, and the Eldon community for moving forward with this important project.

Related resources:

  • This corridor is one of many abandoned and unused railroad corridors in Missouri that could potentially be converted to trail use.  To find corridors in your part of the state, look at the report Missouri Blueways - Active and Abandoned Railways by Jeff Huff.
  • Among rail corridors potentially, currently, or very recently under consideration for trail conversion in Missouri are these:
    • The City of Chillicothe owns a long stretch of railroad corridor between Chillicothe and Brunswick, MO
    • The City of Columbia owns the COLT railroad line between Columbia and Centralia.  This is potentially an excellent candidate for a rails-with-trails project
    • Some former rail corridors in northwest Missouri in the St. Joseph area have been discussed as potential trail connections
    • Great Rivers Greenway District in the St. Louis metro area owns a number of corridors in which trails are planned--perhaps most interesting of all, a 1.5 mile-long elevated railway trestle, which the District plans to convert to a trail.
  • Creating an interconnected trails system linking Missouri with several nearby states is one of the goals of the Quad-States Trail System, a plan for more than 750 miles of interconnected trails.  The Rock Island Trail would create a whole new set of connections within the Quad States Trail system.
  • Creating a complete, interconnected trails system, with the Katy Trail as the main trunk, reach every part of the state of Missouri, is one of the goals of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri.