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America’s Trails

Final Missouri Rock Island Trail Segment Confirmed in 450-Mile Trail Network

By: Amy Kapp
October 1, 2015

Photo courtesy Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc.
Photo courtesy Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc.

When it rains, it pours …

UPDATE: In December 2016, Missouri State Parks formally announced that Rock Island Trail State Park will now be known as the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park.

There’s been a lot of action surrounding the Rock Island Trail in Missouri this month—culminating in an announcement made on Sept. 30 by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and KCATA President Joe Reardon that a cooperative agreement has been reached to purchase a 17.7-mile section of disused Rock Island Corridor stretching from Kansas City to Lee’s Summit for future rail-trail conversion. If the deal goes through, trail construction could start as early as next year.

Jackson Co. Executive Mike Sanders announces Kansas City- Lee's Summit Rock Island Trail deal, Sept. 30, 2015 | Photo courtesy Jackson County Communications
Jackson Co. Executive Mike Sanders announces Kansas City- Lee’s Summit Rock Island Trail deal, Sept. 30, 2015 | Photo courtesy Jackson County Communications

The significance to the state and to national trail development is huge; here’s why …

Just a couple of weeks ago, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the planned completion of the Rock Island State Park trail, a 47-mile pathway between Pleasant Hill and Windsor.

This 47-mile segment connects to a massive 144-mile disused rail segment running from Windsor to Beaufort that is currently being railbanked by Missouri State Parks in coordination with Ameren (the owner of the corridor). This was made possible through a massive mobilization effort last summer led by RTC and the State of Missouri.

Additionally, plans are underway in Pleasant Hill to complete a short gap of trail between the 17-mile segment and Rock Island State Park.

What this all means is a continuous pathway (the Rock Island Trail system) of more than 200 miles from Kansas City near the western state line to Beaufort (near Washington) in the eastern part of the state. Check out a map of the planned route.

“This is an historic step forward for our entire community,” said Sanders of the 17.7-mile cooperative agreement. “The significance of this announcement, and its potential to shape our county’s growth for generations to come, cannot be overstated.”

Katy Trail | Photo courtesy joneser005 | Cc by 2.0
Katy Trail | Photo courtesy joneser005 | Cc by 2.0

“The opportunity to secure this invaluable corridor for public access and future transportation and development will benefit our entire region …” said Reardon. “I applaud Mike Sanders for his efforts to secure the Rock Island Corridor over the last four years, without which we would not be where we are today.”

The Rock Island Trail system, when complete, will connect with the 237-mile Katy Trail in both Windsor and Washington, meaning a continuous 450-plus mile loop extending the entire width of Missouri—from Kansas City to St. Louis.

The Katy Trail and Rock Island Trails are also key parts of a proposed multi-state trail system that could comprise more than a thousand miles of trails interconnecting four Midwest states, including Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.

RELATED: World-Class Trail Network in Missouri Just Got 47 Miles Closer to Reality

RTC has been working with local partners to help make the Missouri trail system a reality, and will continue to provide support as the project moves forward.

“I am overjoyed by the announcement of this cooperative agreement to preserve and devolve the corridor from Lee’s Summit into Kansas City proper,” said Eric Oberg, director of trail development for RTC’s Midwest Regional Office. “This extension of the Rock Island/Katy Trail is essential in the pursuit of a world-class trail system in Missouri that will cover more than 450 miles and greatly impact the region.”

He continues, “The foresight and dedication of the many individuals and agencies to make this happen will not be forgotten by trail enthusiasts both in Missouri and nationwide as this nationally significant system continues to be developed.”

We know that trails serve as economic engines in Missouri and across the United States; a 2011 study of the Katy Trail estimated an $18 million economic impact annually. We also know that when people have access to trails, they use them—resulting in communitywide increased physical activity and transportation mode shifts.

The potential that these interconnected trails have to impact communities along their proposed routes is huge—and underscores the importance of these types of investments across America.

Congratulations, Missouri!

Amy Kapp | Photo courtesy Amy Kapp
Amy Kapp

Amy Kapp serves as Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America's rail-trails, parks and public lands.

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