The Rock Island Trail is vital to the economic health of its communities: Rock Island Rally results

At the rally for the Rock Island Trail held on the steps of the Missouri State Capitol, we saw powerful evidence of the importance of the trail to Rock Island Communities across the heart of Missouri.

Rally for the Rock Island Trail at the Capitol in Jefferson City
Rally for the Rock Island Trail at the Capitol in Jefferson City

Many thanks go to everyone who attended the rally--from all parts of Missouri--and to those who traveled from towns across 190 miles of existing and prospective Rock Island Trail to tell how important the trail is to each and every community along its path.

The Rock Island Trail is "an opportunity to create a future"

The Jefferson City News-Tribune wrote:

Liz Thorstensen, vice president of nonprofit advocacy group Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., said Rust Belt cities like Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland and parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland are being reinvigorated by investments in new bike trails that attract tourists and spur spending by local residents. Trails can help towns sell themselves as walkable, bikable and healthy communities to businesses, she said.

"This is putting these places that have long declined back on the map," Thorstensen said. "This is an opportunity to create a future where trail systems are part of healthy, thriving communities."

Shelby Teufel, assistant city administrator for the city of Pleasant Hill, said residents there wanted the trail for almost 20 years. In the few months since it's opened, she said, the city's downtown area is already seeing new activity from cyclists and residents. About 500 riders come through the city each month, which is a lot for the town of about 8,000 people.

"These aren't just residents that are riding," Teufel said. "These are riders from different states. Our community is becoming a destination."

Cary Parker, Gerald mayor, said the investment increased community pride in his city.

"Gerald is a Rock Island town," Parker said. "The trail will not fix every issue the city has, but it's a catalyst. It will bring new business."

The new Rock Island Trail section intersects with the Katy Trail in Windsor. Kim Henderson, a Windsor resident, rented one cabin on the Katy Trail to cyclists the past two years. Since the Rock Island Trail opened, though, she's added two more cabins to rent.

Ameren wants to donate "one of the longest continuous disused rights-of-way in the country" to Missouri State Parks

MissouriNet wrote:

Several groups wanting to develop the Rock Island Trail railroad path recently held a rally at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Most of the trail, which is owned by Ameren, has been abandoned for decades.  The utility giant purchased the line in the 1990’s with the intention of hauling coal through the corridor.  An eastern portion is still being utilized by rail traffic.

Now, Ameren wants to donate a lengthy 144 stretch of its path to the state for what it calls a “possible trail resource”.  The site Abandoned Rails calls it “one of the longest continuous disused rights-of-way in the country”.  Ameren is still working through the process of railbanking the corridor, where railroad tracks and ties are pulled up.

"Today, my heart is full . . ."

Brandi Horton of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy wrote:

Wow. Today my heart is full. . . . .

Supporters of the Rock Island Trail rallied at the state Capitol in Jefferson, M

Supporters of the Rock Island Trail rallied at the state Capitol in Jefferson, Missouri. | Photo by Brandi Horton

It’s easy to get excited about the Rock Island Trail; at 144 miles in length, this trail has the potential to be epic. It has tunnels and amazing bridges (like the Gasconade River Bridge) and weaves in and out of rural towns that are the length of its route. It promises beauty and adventure.

The connections to the Katy Trail—more than 450 miles when the whole thing is completed—will be beyond epic. It will be an international sensation. Nothing like it will exist in the country or the world.

But when you listen to people like April Siegfried, who recently opened a general store in Chilhowee, you understand that what makes this trail epic isn’t just its vistas and its infrastructureit’s the promise of a new economy to small towns that don’t have much else to count on. Siegfried told the more than 150 people at the Missouri State Capitol that since her store opened a few months ago, more than 170 have signed her guest book—more than half the population of Chilhowee, which boasts 329 residents—some from as far away as Alaska and Germany. In her words, they wouldn’t have any other reason to visit Chilhowee. The trail brings them—and their tourism dollars. 

Pathway to prosperity

Dan Mehan, President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce wrote:

I love the outdoors. I realize this perspective is far from unique. Outdoor recreation is an $887 billion industry in our country, supporting 7.6 million jobs, according to the latest data from the national Outdoor Industry Association. . . .

Our outdoor resources are important tourism drivers. The most recent annual report from the Missouri Division of Tourism shows that 13 percent of the visitors to our state came to see our state parks. Nine percent traveled to Missouri for our fishing and boating opportunities. . . .

[In this issue] we visit businesses in Chilhowee and Windsor to learn about the economic impact being felt along a new bike and equestrian path there. Economic growth along the trail has many small communities hoping for a possible trail expansion. Read more here.

Keep in mind that bicycling and trail sports are fully 1/4 of that $887 billion/7.6 million job outdoor recreation industry in the U.S.--and Missouri's share of the bicycle & trails portion of the outdoor recreation industry is about $2.8 billion annually.

The main article in Missouri Business Magazine this month, to which Mehan referred, takes it even further:

It’s a Thursday in early June, and Kim’s Cabins in Windsor are completely booked.

A group of out-of-state bicyclists is staying here, filling all three of the cabins. Owner Kim Henderson is thrilled. . . .

“Folks are coming from all over,” she said. “It’s exciting. Trail riders have become the backbone of my business.”

In December, Windsor became the easternmost point of a new 47.5-mile biking, walking and equestrian trail, officially dubbed the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park. Windsor is located at the junction of the new Rock Island trail and the Katy Trail.

 Missouri Business Magazine's summary of local communities are saying 


While no one has studied the economic impact of the latest trail, it appears riders on the finished portion of the Rock Island trail don’t mind opening their pocketbooks.

As the trail enters the city limits in Chilhowee, there’s a sign advertising the Chilhowee Corner Store, which opened in March.

Owner April Siegfried said trail business is “huge” on the weekends. Rock Island riders often stop in to buy deli sandwiches, snacks and drinks. She started carrying fresh fruit at their request. . . .

People here believe the trail is going to be important to Chilhowee’s future.

“We are so small, and we’re not on any major highway,” Siegfried said. “It’s going to be essential for us.”

The Rock Island Trail is essential - and you can help make it happen

The Rock Island Trail is not only going to be essential to Chilhowee--it will be essential to Missouri.

That is why we need to be sure that Missouri State Parks hears from everyone who supports the trail, as they make their decision on whether or not to move forward with it.

So please remember to fill out Missouri State Park's Survey in support of the Rock Island Trail--and if you have already completed the survey, make sure every one in your household and every one of your bicycling, walking, and trails friends have completed the survey.

Many thanks to all who supported the Rock Island Trail Rally

Thanks go to our partners in organizing the rally, Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. It would not have been possible to organize such and effective rally in such a short time without these invaluable partners.  Both of them represent thousands of ordinary Missourians and ordinary Americans who think that trails are vital to the fabric of our communities--and to the health and economy of our nation and our state.

And many thanks to everyone who attended--and most especially to everyone who represented a community, a business, or a community organization in speaking for the trail.

When we speak up, it really makes a difference.


Supporting a world-class bicycle, pedestrian, and trails network across Missouri is one of four major goals of our Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Supporting major statewide trails initiatives like the Rock Island Trail is one of the most important things we do to help reach that goal.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality.  Thank you!