Proposed Missouri hiking, biking trail draws mixed response
By Ryan Storz
WESTPHALIA, Mo. (AP) -- A proposal to transform an abandoned rail corridor into a 145-mile, cross-state biking and hiking trail is drawing praise from outdoor enthusiasts and concerns from some landowners.
If converted, the Missouri Rock Island Trail would stretch from Windsor in the western part of the state to the Franklin County town of Beaufort in the east while twice crossing the 236-mile Katy Trail, which is also a state park.
During a meeting Thursday in the mid-Missouri town of Westphalia, Keith Laughlin, president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy encouraged attendees to "look at the opportunity" of transforming a corridor that hasn't seen train traffic in 30 years, the bit.ly/1CoILvJJefferson City News-Tribune reports. He said it would serve as an asset that "boosts the economy of every community it will pass through."
The proposed plan would not do away with the railway itself. Instead, it calls for the corridor to be "railbanked," a legal term that means the corridor is made available for public use but allows for the reactivation of rail service by keeping the existing tracks intact.
"Without interim trail use, there's no future potential for rail service," said Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks.
Concerns, however, include increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic, access to land for livestock, and biosecurity, said Leslie Holloway, director of regulatory affairs at the Missouri Farm Bureau. Another point of contention was whether the economic benefits would outweigh the cost of the trail.
"If nothing else, there needs to be a lot more discussion and a lot more explanation about what the economic impact might actually be of this trail," Holloway said. She cited a meeting with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which predicted the Rock Island Trail would attract one-fourth of the traffic the Katy Trail currently receives.
Approval to convert the railway is pending from the U.S. Department of Transportation Surface Board. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources plans to schedule more public forums for residents as the discussion on the Rock Island Trail continues.