Major Katy/Rock Island progress: Gov Nixon commits to completing Katy Trail connection to Kansas City by 2016

The important multi-decade initiative to connect the Katy Trail system across the state, from state line to state line and to St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas on each end of the state, is will reach a major milestone next year, according to an announcement by Governor Jay Nixon today.

Governor Nixon speaks to trail supporters
Governor Nixon, flanked by Bill Bryan (MO State Parks), Sen. David Pearce (Warrensburg), & Mayor Carrie Tergin (Jefferson City), spoke to trail supporters

Governor Nixon spoke to trail supporters at the North Jefferson Katy Trailhead at 1:45pm today, with the news that Missouri State Parks is commited to completing the major portion of the Katy Trail connection to Kansas City, on the Rock Island railroad corridor from Windsor to Pleasant Hill, by the end of 2016.  The Governor's press release said:

Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that by the end of 2016, Missouri State Parks expects to complete the extension of the Katy Trail from Windsor to Pleasant Hill along the Rock Island Trail State Park. The 47.5-mile-long extension will allow hikers and bicyclists greater access from the Kansas City region to the 240-mile long Katy Trail, which runs from Clinton to St. Charles County.

Missouri State Parks Director Bill Bryan added in his Facebook post about the event:

Today we committed to complete the 47.5 mile reach from Windsor to Pleasant Hill by the end of 2016.

Katy Trail Connection to KC under development since 2007--recent developments will improve trail quality and add an additional 144 (!) miles of trail

The 47.5 mile section under discussion today has been under trail development since 2007, when the state reached an agreement with Ameren--who owns the underlying railroad line--to build the trail section that will connect the Katy Trail at Windsor to the outskirts of the Kansas City metro area at Pleasant Hill.  The agreement was part of the negotiations over reparations for the Taum Sauk disaster. Inclusion of the trail as part of the settlement was in doubt; MoBikeFed and our allies across the state help generate thousands of citizen signatures, email messages, and phone calls in support of the trail--support that was absolutely vital in making the Katy-KC connection a reality.

Missouri's potential cross-state Rock Island Trail
Missouri's potential cross-state Rock Island Trail. The westernmost 47.6 miles of the trail, highlighted in green, is the subject of today's announcements

The 2007 agreement, however, was for a rails-with-trails arrangement, and Ameren retained ownership of the railroad tracks.  Since Governor Nixon took office in 2009, Missouri State Parks and Ameren have been through several years of intense negotiations.  The end result was that Ameren abandoned all rails use and gave the 47.5 mile section of the Rock Island Corridor to Missouri State Parks for use as a trail

Those lengthy negotiations and legal work wrapped up in early 2014.  Since that time, salvage operations and preliminary trail development have taken place on the corridor between Pleasant Hill and Windsor.

And even more encouraging, in 2014 Ameren and Missouri State Parks started working on a new agreement to extend the 47.5 mile trail another 144 miles of the Rock Island line that will run from Windsor to Washington.  The legal work for this extension--still underway and on track for completion next year--will eventually allow creation of a cross-state trail loop system totalling over 450 miles.

Governor support trails, state parks, and the 100 Missouri Miles Challenge

Governor Nixon's press release has more details about the trail and the state's work to support trails and state parks:

“One of my top priorities as Governor has been to improve and expand our outstanding state park system and give Missouri families and visitors even more ways to enjoy the outdoors,” Gov. Nixon said. “At a time when other states were closing state parks or charging entrance fees, here in Missouri we worked hard to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities by expanding access to affordable outdoor recreation. This extension of the nationally-recognized Katy Trail will continue to provide Missourians and visitors alike with an outstanding opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Show-Me State.” 

MoBikeFed, MoRIT, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy support the trail
MoBikeFed, MoRIT, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy presented over 12,500 petition signatures in support of the Rock Island Trail

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 240-mile Katy Trail. As the longest developed rail-trail in the United States, the Katy Trail has been inducted into the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame. The Katy Trail has also been nominated for various awards that recognize its outstanding recreational opportunities and role in making communities quality places in which to live.

“Katy Trail State Park provides a national and international destination to hike and bicycle through the varied landscapes of our state,” said Bill Bryan, Director of Missouri State Parks. “Thanks to the support and generosity of Ted and Pat Jones and all of the trail's supporters 25 years ago, this recreational asset continues to provide economic impact and outdoor opportunities to thousands each year. The Rock Island extension to the west will only enhance these benefits.”

Since taking office in 2009, Gov. Nixon has made increasing access to state parks for Missouri families a top priority.  Under the Governor’s leadership, Missouri has also been named the best camping state, the best trails state, and its state parks have consistently ranked among the best in the nation.

Missouri trails and state parks are important drivers of tourism and economic activity. An economic impact study found that visitors to state parks produced an overall economic impact of $1.02 billion and supported more than 14,000 Missouri jobs.  Another study found that Katy Trail State Park alone generates nearly $18.5 million a year in economic impact for the state, supports 367 jobs, and makes an overall economic impact of $8.2 million to the local trail communities.

Missouri State Parks saw record attendance in 2014 with more than 18.5 million guests, representing a nearly 25 percent increase since 2008. Parks also saw a 5.1 percent increase in camping occupancy at the 40 state parks and historic sites that offer almost 3,600 campsites. Youth camping also increased, with 26 percent of campers staying the night in a state park being under 18.

In 2009, Governor Nixon broke ground on the Katy-Windsor trail connection in Ple
In 2009, Governor Nixon broke ground on the Katy-Windsor trail connection in Pleasant Hill

Gov. Nixon has also made a significant investment in the existing state parks and historic sites that make up the park system.  During fiscal years 2014 and 2015, approximately $18 million was invested in improving and maintaining facilities in the park system. An additional $10 million in investments in improvements to state parks and historic sites throughout Missouri will be made through a strategic bond issuance, made possible by the state’s strong fiscal discipline.

In 2013, the Governor launched the 100 Missouri Miles Challenge to celebrate Missouri being named the “Best Trails State” in America. The Challenge encourages Missourians to complete 100 miles of outdoor physical activity in one year. Over the last two years, more than 25,000 participants have logged over 4.3 million miles, including 431 miles by the Governor and 383 miles by the First Lady, in 2015 alone.

 In May, American Trails recognized Missouri with the Outstanding Media Award for the Governor’s 100 Missouri Mile Challenge initiative.

Congratulations and thanks go to Governor Nixon, Missouri State Parks, Ameren, and the local advocacy group Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), which has worked steadily to unify Rock Island communities around the idea of the trail and to keep pressure on Ameren and Missouri state agencies and officials to keep the momentum moving forward.

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