STL Post-Dispatch: Missouri parks boosters falling millions short of fundraising goal for 144-mile cross-state Rock Island Trail section

A year and a half ago, Missouri State Parks and Ameren signed a historic agreement to transfer the next 144 miles of the Rock Island RR corridor, between Windsor MO and Washington MO, to Missouri State Parks to become Rock Island Trail State Park.

In 2014, MoBikeFed partnered with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc
In 2014, MoBikeFed partnered with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and thousands of supporting organizations and individuals across Missouri and the U.S. to present over 12,000 signatures of support for the Rock Island Trail to Ameren and Missouri State Parks

However, there was a big catch: To finalize the transfer, Missouri State Parks and its supporter had to raise $9.8 million dollars in private or other non-state, non-state parks funding, so that Missouri State Parks could accept the corridor.

Building statewide trail connections, preserving trail corridors like the Rock Island, and taking full advantage of your trail connection when it finally happens, will be some of the main topics of discussion at the Missouri Active Transportation Summit, Friday August 13th, 2021. All virtual for 2021 Join us!

Now, with about five months to go until the deadline created by that agreement, the effort to raise the $9.8 million seems to be falling short:

Parks boosters working to fund the 144-mile Rock Island Corridor are millions of dollars short of their fundraising goal with just five months to go in a two-year campaign.

The president of the Missouri State Parks Foundation, the entity put in charge of raising $9.8 million as a down payment on the 144-mile section, said the organization had raised about $1 million.

The covid pandemic has, of course, slowed down all fundraising efforts, which are highly dependent on face-to-face meetings.

Mike Sutherland, director of Missouri State Parks, said even if the boosters didn’t raise the $9.8 million by the end of the year, he didn’t think it would kill the project.

“We want the project to be successful,” Sutherland told the Post-Dispatch in a recent interview. “To me (it’s) completely reasonable to look at extending that date if we need to.”

Rock Island Background - 47 miles starting in 2005, 144 more miles starting in 2014

Ameren agreed to donate a trail easement for the 47-mile Katy-Kansas City connecting trail in 2005, after the Taum Sauk disaster. When the trail was finally built and opened in 2016, the project had moved from a trail easement to a full donation of the railroad corridor, along with funding to build the trail.

Along the way to the 47 miles, Ameren realized it would like to donate the next 144 miles of the Rock Island corridor for trail use as well.

Ameren has been working to donate that 144-mile portion of the corridor to State Parks since 2014.

You may recall that Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc--the grass roots group of Rock Island supporters from communities all along the trail--worked together with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and MoBikeFed back in 2014 to present over 12,000 citizen signatures to Ameren and Missouri State officials, which provided a good deal of the impetus and citizen support needed to move the deal forward on both sides. 

The Rock Island Trail - Missouri's potential new statewide trail
When combined with the Katy Trail, the Rock Island/Katy system has potentially over 500 miles across Missouri, including a conveniently connected mid-state loop. The section under discussion is the 144-miles shown in red on this map.

Later, Missouri State Parks held a series of citizen meetings about the future of the trail, where over 97% of citizens comments were supportive of moving forward with the trail.  The Rock Island corridor happens to run through a section of the state with very little access to State Parks--and a section of the state that could stand to benefit from the improved health, livability, outdoor recreation opportunity, local and international tourism, and talent/business retention a major trail like the Rock Island would provide.

Support for the trail in those parts of the state is not unanimous - it never is! - but it runs very, very high. 

The completion of the Rock Island Trail is going to be a very good project for Missouri, its communities, its citizens, its businesses, its health, and its economy.

What's next?

What will happen as the clock runs out in December, 2021? Will State Parks and Ameren negotiate an extension?  Will an extension allow time to raise the remainder of the needed $9.8 million?  If it doesn't, what will be the Plan B?

Stay tuned - we're in for an interesting ride. 

And keep the faith - because many Rock Island allies across the state are working to ensure the corridor is preserved and used as a trail, via the current plan if it works, or by other means if not.


More about Missouri's potential statewide trail - the Rock Island Trail:


One of the top goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri is building a world-class bicycle and pedestrian transportation system in Missouri.  The addition of the Rock Island Trail to Missouri's statewide trail system is the biggest single advance we have seen in Missouri in over 20 years.

Your membership and generous financial contributions help turn our Vision into reality--building the statewide public support for bicycling, walking, and trails that make major advances like the Rock Island Trail possible.




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