Rails-to-Trails Conservancy steps in with offer to purchase Rock Island Trail corridor; Your help needed

The Rock Island railroad corridor from Kansas City to Beaufort (near Washington, MO) has been unused for decades.  Now the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has stepped in with an offer that could result in a 211 mile cross state trail.

The new Rock Island State Park is happening on 46 of that 211 miles. Communities on the western end of the trail are working to purchase the westernmost 22 miles of the corridor. But what about the next 143 miles, leading through a beautiful part of the state south of the Missouri River?

Potential Cross-State Rock Island Trail
Potential Cross-State Rock Island Trail

TAKE ACTION!

Click here to sign the petition in support of the Rock Island Trail.

We have nearly 2000 signatures but need over 3000 to ensure that Ameren and our elected officials know that there is powerful support for building the Rock Island Trail.

We have just a week or so to act.

If we save the Rock Island for use as a trail, it will be enjoyed for generations to come.

If we lose it now, it will be lost forever.

The Missouri Rock Island Trail coalition (MoRIT) has been working to unify communities along the corridor behind the idea of turning it into a trail, and have been working with Ameren, owner of the corridor, to encourage the compamy to railbank the corridor so that it can become a trail.

Just a few weeks ago, Ameren surprised everyone by announcing that the corridor is for sale.

Local communities scrambled to encourage Ameren to delay the bid deadline long enough for them to put together a bid to purchase the corridor.  After Ameren extended the bid period, they then worked hard to get a bid put together in time for the deadline.

Last week the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, working together with MoRIT, Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and private partners, submitted a bid to purchase the corridor.

The intent is to convert the unused portion of the of the corridor to trail use while continuing and encouraging rail use of the portion of the line that is still active.

Will Ameren accept the trail bid or delay a trail indefinitely?

Now, Ameren must make a decision.  If they accept the bid of salvage rail operators who typically purchase corridors like these, the work to turn the corridor into a statewide rail trail is likely to be put on hold for a long time--or even permanently.

If they accept the bid supported by local communities and put together by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we could see the corridor railbanked and transferred to Missouri State Parks in pretty short order.  

(To set expectations: It will take years to actually build the entire trail out across the state--but we could get started in very short order with railbanking, transferring ownership to Missouri State Parks, and starting to build a few of the 'easy' portions of the trail.)

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy rides to the rescue

Yesterday Keith Laughlin, President of the the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, posted about the effort to save the corridor for trail use, their (amazingly effective!) role in putting the bid together, what might happen next, and how you can help:

I will admit some trepidation when I signed an eight-figure offer to purchase a piece of real estate, particularly when such an action wasn't even remotely contemplated when I arrived at work on Monday morning. (It is important to note that RTC is not shouldering the financial burden of the purchase alone; our pockets aren't that deep. Rather, the deal is structured so that RTC will be working with two private sector partners to secure the purchase the corridor.)  

It's impossible to know if our bid will be accepted. But if all goes as planned, a multi-step transaction will unfold over several months. The critical step in that process will be ensuring that the corridor has been "railbanked" to preserve it intact as a transportation asset for the American people. With that step completed, the sale would finalize, and at the moment that we own the property we would donate it to Missouri State Parks for development as a trail. And it could be spectacular!

I am proud of the role that RTC has played in this effort, particularly Andrea Ferster, our general counsel, who is among a handful of national experts on the arcane details of railroad real estate law.

But if the future includes a ribbon cutting on a fantastic new trail, the bulk of the credit will go to those local activists who envisioned all the many benefits that such a trail would bring to their communities. So it is with gratitude that we look forward to a long partnership with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and Missouri State Parks to make the vision of such a trail a tangible reality.

Sign the petition here.

Read more about the corridor, its background, and recent developments here.