ALERT: Missouri Senate Committee zeros Rock Island Trail funding - Could come back in conference committee - What you can do now to help

UPDATE May 5th: Good news: Tuesday the Conference Committee restored the $1 million Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment funding plus an additional $150K funding for 2023 in HB 3006.

Less Good News: Wednesday the  HB 3015 Conference Committee failed to restore any of the $3.5 million for the RIT in 2022. The good news here is that several on the Committee spoke in favor of restoring some of the funding. But two key Senators - Vice Chair Lincoln Hough and Senator Sandy Crawford, whose district takes in a good piece of the new 144-mile State Park - spoke against any increase.  Sen Hough, in particular, was vehement in his opposition.

We are still waiting for the Senate to take up HB 3020, which includes Governor Parson's proposed $69 million in funding to build most of the most difficult parts of the new 144-mile statewide trail connection.  It may come to the Senate floor later Thursday or Friday - or perhaps it will go into next week. 

We know that intensive discussiosn and negotiations are going on over the Governor's proposal and other aspects of HB 3020, which is the state plan for spending some billions of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding sent to Missouri.

UPDATE 10AM May 3rd: Groups working on the ground at the Capitol have asked us to flood Missouri Senators with calls & messages of support for Gov. Parson's proposed Rock Island Trail funding today.

Look up your own Missouri Senator here. Call and/or send a message using the contact form on your Senator's web page.

Suggested message: "Please fully support Gov. Parson's proposed funding for the Rock Island Trail in HB 3020. This is a rural infrastructure project that will benefit the entire state"


 Click the image to look up your Missouri Senator

Click the image to look up your Missouri Senator


The Missouri Appropriations Committee passed HB 3020 today, with Gov Parson's proposed $69 million in federal ARPA funding for Rock Island Trail State Park construction set to zero. The Missouri Independent has some details and reaction.

The Rock Island Trail will combine with the Katy Trail and other interconnected
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

Many senators on the committee support the new State Park and Gov. Parson's proposed funding.  But two key senators - particularly Committee Vice Chair Lincoln Hough and Chair Dan Hegeman - appear to oppose it.

What's next?  The legislature must pass all budget bills by Friday, May 6th, and 6PM.  So between now and Friday, a Conference Committee of House & Senate members will meet, and in discussion with Gov Parson's staff, decide whether the Senate proposal ($0), the House proposal ($70), or some value between will be the final decision.

The House & Senate will then vote to adopt the Conference Committee report - probably late on Friday - and the 2023 budget will be settled.

How can you help now?

Three people have the power to affect this decision now.  Spending 5 minutes contacting one or more of them can really help:

  • Gov Mike Parson
    Leave a message via the Governor's online contact form  (Subject: State Budget: Inquiry/Opinion)
    Phone: (573) 751-3222
    Fax: (573) 751-1495
    Gov Parson is a big supporter of this project and funding, so thanking him for that support and asking him to keep this among his top priorities as it goes to Conference Committee is the most helpful tack.
  • Rep Cody Smith, Chair, House Budget Committee
    Phone: 573-751-5458 
    Rep. Smith was a big supporter in the House, even finding some additional funding beyond Gov Parson's initial ask.  Again, thanking him for that and asking him to defend this appropriation as important for the state as a whole, is most helpful.

Suggested messages

Suggested points:

  • Please fully fund the Rock Island Trail at the $69 million recommended by Gov. Parson in HB 3020.
    • Gov Parson proposed the funding - when contacting him, thank him for supporting the funding and ask him to make it a top priority in as the budget negotiations conclude this week.
  • Please restore the $1 million in private funding raised to support the Rock Island Trail State Park in HB 3006.
  • This is a statewide project that will benefit communities all across the state from the largest to the smallest and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • This is rural infrastructure and economic development - a high priority of everyone involved.
  • Rock Island Trail is now officially part of the Missouri State Parks system - so withholding money from its development increases our State Parks deferred maintenance rather than helping it.
  • You can also include a few sentences or a short story explaining why the trail is important to you or your agency, organization, your part of the state, etc.


A side note: Does Missouri State Parks own the Rock Island railroad corridor? Yes . . .

A side note about the 144 miles of the Rock Island Trail State Park - and some background on an issue that has became important in the discussion of the Rock Island Trail State Park funding in the Missouri legislature:

Some members of the Missouri legislature, and some opponents of the new State Park, seem to believe that there is doubt about the ownership or title of the new state park, that Missouri State Parks does not own the corridor, or that if the legislature is able to stymie funding on the trail for a few years the property will be given back to nearby landowners.

Below are the facts on those issues - which you can see, are somewhat complex. 

To start with, the simple answers:

  • Is there is doubt about the ownership or title of the new state park?
    • No, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld railbanking and the legality of the system that has recently transferred the 144 miles of the Rock Island railroad corridor to Missouri State Parks.
  • Does Missouri State Parks really own the corridor?
    • Yes. They have a t itle to the property same as you might to your house or farm.
  • If the legislature is able to stymie funding on the trail for a few years will property be given back to nearby landowners?
    • No.

      When the trail is developed it is going to be a huge benefit to Missouri and particularly to trail communities - who could really use the economic boost right now.  But depriving State Parks of funding needed to secure the corridor, erect the fencing required by State Law, and administer the land they and the taxpayers of Missouri now own, only harms those communities and adjacent property owners who were hoping to have fences and gates erected and trespassers stopped.

      It will not, however, ever cause the property to be relinquished or revert to nearby property owners.

And, for the curious, all the details:


So the property has been transferred to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and has been added to the Missouri State Parks system. That is not an issue that is in question.

Most of the properties purchased by the Rock Island Railroad back in the late 1800s and early 1900s were simply land purchases from owners.  Those pieces of property are simply owned now by Missouri State Parks as ordinary land.  Some other owners sold a "right of way" - and now State Parks owns the right-of-way, which could be used for a road, trail, railroad, and so on.

Finally, some relatively few landowners sold - for a lower amount of money - a more restrictive "railroad easement".  These are the property owners who can file for compensation under the federal "Little Tucker Act," because the use of the land as a  trail does, according to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, go beyond the original use as a railroad easement.

If you hear that the new State Park is the subject of "lawsuits," this is what the lawsuits are about.  These (relatively small percentage) of the adjacent landowners are eligible for compensation from the federal government.

The lawsuits are not for return of the land - the lawsuits are not even asking for that.  They are asking for compensation for the use of the land - which is fair, since the original compensation they received for the land was for railroad use and nothing beyond that.

The 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld both sides of this issue:

  • Congress was allowed to provide for railbanking a railroad corridor, in order to preserve it for future generations
  • At the same time, landowners - depending on the details of the agreement they signed when they sold the land or easement - may be eligible for compensation for this additional, new use.

Is there any question that State Parks now owns the corridor? 

Here is what Charles Montagne, nationally renowed expert on railbanking law, said:

If the acquisition was made correctly pursuant to the railbanking statute, the adjoining landowners should not be able to upset it, and the utility cannot conflict with trail or trail use on the corridor, under federal preemption doctrine.

Meghan Largent and Lindsay Brinton are attorneys with Lewis Rice who work on behalf of rail-trail adjacent landowners all over the country.  Here is their assessment of the situation:

Meghan Largent, an attorney with the law firm Arent Fox, told Meta-area residents on Wednesday there is essentially no legal action that would block the trail conversion.  . . . the Missouri Central Railroad still needs to ask for a Notice of Interim Trail Use from the Surface Transportation Board. . . .  Largent said any landowners who want to be compensated for trail conversions on their property must file suit within six years of the notice's approval.

[Lindsay Brinton, an attorney for Arent Fox] said, the land has already been taken and any claim will not affect their property, the easements on the property or the trail. The suit is simply a claim for compensation.

There are the technical details about railbanking the corridor. These are not necessarily for sharing with your legislators or others who may not want the information overload.

But those with a deep interest in rail-trails and the issues involved - which, if you have read this far, is definitely you - need to have accurate information about the property issues involving the Rock Island Trail and other similar rail-trails around the country.

More resources:

Thank you

Thank you!  The work to support the acceptance of the Rock Island Trail byu Missouri State Parks and now funding to complete much of the trail has been and amazing cooperative effort among dozens of allied organizations across Missouri and many thousands of individual Missourians. Please support all of these groups - but above all, do not forget Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc, the alliance of local supporters and communities along the trail that is dedicated solely to the development and completion of the trail.

When people and organizations from all across Missouri work together to support the projects we all benefit from and enjoy, and to contact our elected officials and state leaders, it really makes a difference!


 Capitol Day 2022 

Special thanks to everyone who attended Capitol Day 2022 and the annual Ride with Legislators April 25th.


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.

Join MoBikeFed's Advocacy Network

MoBikeFed is a statewide group of people like you, working together for better bicycling, walking, and trails in Missouri. When you join our advocacy network you receive occasional important advocacy alerts and bicycle, pedestrian, and trails news from around Missouri.

Working together we make a real difference! Join our advocacy network: