State Parks Rock Island Trail funding survives two close Missouri House floor votes - now on to the Senate - How you can help now

After nearly an hour of debate on the floor of the Missouri House, the House today approved Governor Parson's proposal for $69 million in federal ARPA funding to be use to build the most difficult section of the State Parks' Rock Island Trail.

Missouri House chamber during the debate on the Rock Island Trail amendments tod
Missouri House chamber during the debate on the Rock Island Trail amendments today

Now the Missouri Budget bills move to the Missouri Senate - where the discussion is likely to be even more intense.

What's next: Missouri Senate Committee, then full Senate

The budget will likely be in Senate Appropriations Commitee hearings starting next week, with Committee votes in about two weeks and vote on the floor of the Senate in about 3 weeks.  That leaves the first week of May for Conference Committee meetings and a final vote in both chambers.

The Rock Island Trail will combine with the Katy Trail
The Rock Island Trail will combine with the Katy Trail and other interconnected trails to create a 500+ mile cross-state trail system across Missouri, connecting the state's largest cities and some of the smallest rural communities

So we have about two weeks to get a clear message to senators on the appropriations committee, and three weeks to reach all 34 Missouri Senators.

Please do get started now with the messages and phone calls now - nothing helps a Missouri Senator understand an issue like personal contact from their own constituents.

What happened today in the Missouri House

After weeks of Committee hearings, the Missouri budget bills came to the House floor today for one full day of debate and votes on proposed amendments to the bills.

Besides the usual Missouri budget bills, a large, new bill was created for 2022 that determines how the Missouri state share of the federal ARPA funding (Covid stimulus funding) will be spent.

Missouri has several billions of dollars of this federal funding, which must be spent within a few years or it is lost.

In his budget and the State of the State address in January, Governor Parson proposed spending $69 million of this ARPA funding to build the major and most difficult parts of the new 144-mile section of State Parks' Rock Island Trail.

The funding was threatened with cuts throughout the process, but in the end was fully supported by House Budget Commitee Chair Cody Smith and a vote of the full Budget Committee last week.

Yesterday, in preparation for debate on the floor of the House, four amendments were introduced that would have eliminated the Rock Island trail funding:

Rep. Mayhew during today's floor debate
Rep. Mayhew during today's floor debate

Debate on the first amendment - to divert all Rock Island Trail funding to State Parks deferred maintenance

Floor debate on the Budget bills began at 10am.  Just after 5:00pm, the amendments dealing with Rock Island Trail funding came up.  You can watch the full floor debate on the amendments here.

Debate on Rep. Blacks' amendment to divert all $69 million in Rock Island Trail funding towards State Parks deferred maintenance was debated for about 25 minutes. Reps. Black, Cupps, and Chipman along with Rep. Deaton (MacDonald County and Vice Chair of the Budget Committee) led the debate against the trail and for the amendment to strip the funding.

A number of representatives spoke in favor of the amendment - among the organizers of the support were Rep. Mayhew, Rep. Griffith, Rep. Sassman, and Rep. Haley.

Rep. Haley of Eldon gave an eloquent speech in favor of the trail
Rep. Haley of Eldon gave an eloquent speech in favor of the trail

A few highlights from the debate:

  • Q: Did DNR ask for the money to be transferred to deferred maintenance? A: No. (Q: Rep. Mayhew, A: Rep. Black)
  • I like the trail! It's a great thing! (Rep. Billy Kidd, Buckner)
  • The Katy Trail has done wonders for us. The Rock Island Trail will do even more. (Rep. Dave Griffith, Cole County)
  • I wholly support the Rock Island Trail - another economic boon for our state. (Rep. Shields, Buchanan County)
  • When I leave here, it would be nice if we could look at one thing and say: We did this for the future. (Rep. Murphy, St Louis)
  • The development of the Rock Island Trail will have a tremendous economic impact on the communities it intersects and on our state.  In today's business  climate, recreational opportunities are valued as a necessity for retaining skilled talent, retention of workers, and workforce development. (Rep.Haley, Eldon)
  • My family has built a business, 20 years this year, . . . in Boonville along the Katy Trail. We have prospered. And those towns and cities along the Rock Island are going to prosper, just like the Katy Trail. In our bakery we have people come from all over the world - all over the world! - to come to that trail. (Rep. Taylor, Cooper County)
  • It's not just that  these trails are fun to have, and nice to have. These trails are economic development engines. (Rep. Railsford, Crawford County)
  • Our State Parks system is best in the world class. We can be proud of our state parks system. . . . The economic benefit, the outdoor benefit, the benefit to the public health. . . . If you've been on the Katy Trail you know what a boon it has been tourism and development of these small towns. (Rep. Butz, St. Louis)

    Rep. Bruce Sassman of Bland has worked 35 years
    Rep. Bruce Sassman of Bland has worked 35 years - almost half of his life - for the development of the Rock Island Trail
  • It's an opportunity to build something that is going to be around for my grandkids' grandkids. (Rep. Griffith, Jefferson City)
  • It's a vision to create a trail system and a trail loop that is unlike anything in this country and maybe in the world. (Rep. Sassman, Bland)

After 25 minutes of debate, the vote on the amendment:  53 yes, 81 no.

The amendment failed and the Rock Island Trail funding was preserved - for the moment. 

Debate on the second amendment - to stop all spending on the Rock Island Trail until all lawsuits involving adjoining landowners are resolved

Immediately after Rep. Black's amendment failed, Rep. Cupps of Shell Knob brought his amendment to the floor. The amendment prohibits any funding of the Rock Island Trail until all lawsuits involving adjoining property owners are resolved.

Landowners along a rail trail can apply for what is called a "Tucker Filing" - compensation for the use of their land for a trail corridor under the federal Tucker Act.  Preservation of the railroad corridor is provided under federal law, because preserving these long, contiguous corridors intact is in the national interest.  Because the usage of the corridor is different from the original use, federal courts have ruled that some property owners - those who still own the underlying land while the railroad was given an easement to operate on the land - are entitled to compensation for this different use of the land. 

To receive their compensation, land owners must file a lawsuit in federal court. Certain law firms around the U.S. specialize in helping land owners file these claims.

This system of landowner compensation was pioneered when Missouri developed the Katy Trail as first really large rail to trail conversion in the U.S.

Twenty years later, however, it is a fairly routine legal matter - the main issue of which is establishing that land owners have the type of ownership interest in the railroad property that allows them to be awarded compensation.

Right now, these lawsuits have been filed and are proceeding through the federal court system.  The trigger for the lawsuits happened some years ago - when the application for "interim trail use" of the corridor was first made - and nothing the state does now will affect the progress of these lawsuits in any way.

Rep. Griffith of Jefferson City spoke in favor of the trail
Rep. Griffith of Jefferson City spoke in favor of the trail and against the amendments

The lawsuits only have to do with compensation for adjoining landowners.  No lawsuit has been filed to stop the trail or interfere with development of the trail in any way - because this use of the corridor is now settled federal law for many decades now.

Nevertheless, forcing State Parks to wait until all lawsuits involving adjoining property owners are resolved was the point of this amendment, which was filed by both Rep. Black and Rep. Cupps.

This floor debate boiled down to two simple points:

  • Amendment supporters emphasized that the amendment was for property owners, so anyone who supports property rights or the Farm Bureau's work should support the amendment.  They also suggested that the state might spend millions of dollars on the trail and then have to give it back if the lawsuits are successful. "If you stand up for property rights and landowner rights, you'd better be in favor of this."
  • Trail supporters explained that the lawsuits are simply for landowner compensation and irrelevant to the development of the trail.  No lawsuit out there is aimed at stopping the trail or taking the property of of State Parks' hands. There is no reason to stop development of the trail to wait for the completion of lawsuits that have no bearing on the trail or the corridor, but only landowner compensation.

The appeal to the concept of landowner rights was strong, and this amendment fared better than the first one: The final vote on the amendment was 62 in favor and 70 opposing.

With the failure of this amendment, the floor debate moved on to other matters. The other two amendments - which were very similar to the two that were discussed and voted on - were not brought to the floor.

Rock Island Trail funding survives another day - thanks to your support

The Rock Island Trail took 45 minutes of the House's budget debate - that is over 8% of the budget debate time, even though the Trail funding is just 0.2% of this year's $47 billion dollar state budget. 

That is the good news and the bad news. The good news is, many trail supporters showed up in the Missouri House today.  It was a truly bipartisan issue.  The benefits of the trail to trail communities and to the state as a whole are clear.

The portion of the trail requested for ARPA funding
The portion of the trail requested for ARPA funding is the most difficult but also the most scenic section of the Rock Island, with two major bridges and three major tunnels. With this most difficult piece of the trail done, the complete connection to the Katy will be rapidly complete. Further regional, statewide, and national trail connections are in the works as well.

The other side of the coin is that - like the Katy Trail more than 30 years ago - these major trail projects still stir strong opinions and feelings among legislators and some citizens. The Missouri Farm Bureau has worked for decades to protect the rights of property owners along the railroad corridors, and any fair analysis will recognize that their work in this area has been important.

For example, it was the lawsuit organized by the Farm Bureau - and carried through all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court - that has allowed for fair compensation for property owners whose land becomes part of a railbanked corridor.  And the Farm Bureau has worked continually with Missouri State Parks on practical property owner issues along both the Katy and Rock Island corridors - everything from fencing to safety to liability to prevention of trespassing.

These are issues that deserve discussion and fair, reasonable resolutions. 

However - as with other issues and projects of benefit to the entire community - the needs for health, outdoor recreation access and the economic development opportunities brought to rural Missouri communities that are dwindling in population and economic opportunity have to be fairly balanced against the interests of property owners.

Rural communities across Missouri are losing population and - as MoBikeFed has repeatedly pointed out - health, fitness, and life expectancy in rural Missouri is lower than it should be, in large part because rural communities have less access to safe place to walk, bicycle, and enjoy outdoor recreation than do larger cities and metro areas.

Trails are among the most cost-effective ways to address all of those issues of rural communities in one single package.

Coming next: the Missouri Senate

Over the next few weeks, the Rock Island Trail funding will be debated in the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee and then the floor of the full Senate.

As you can see, the road to final passage of this funding will not be easy!  Here are some ways you can help now:

Again, a big thank you goes to everyone who took the time to contact their Missouri State Representative or House Budget Committee leadership and members.  Your outreach made a real difference - even more so when we see votes that are so close, and could easily have gone the other direction. 

Trash to treasure - the Rock Island Corridor goes through more than 20 Missouri communities, and hasn't been maintained in decades. The corridor will go from a liability for Rock Island communities to a statewide asset.
Trash to treasure - the Rock Island Corridor goes through more than 20 Missouri communities, and hasn't been maintained in decades. The corridor will go from a liability for Rock Island communities to a statewide asset.

When we speak up with a unified voice, it really makes a difference.

More information:


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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