Earlier today, Ameren submitted a letter signaling its plans to “railbank” 145 miles of the old Rock Island railroad line stretching from Windsor to Beaufort, Mo. Indications are that ownership of the corridor will be transferred to Missouri State Parks to become part of the new Rock Island Trail State Park, which will eventually connect with the Katy Trail.

Adding this new segment to the existing Katy Trail and portions of the Rock Island Trail already underway, that means Missouri is now working towards an interconnected, statewide trail network of more than 450 miles.

“This is a historic event for Missouri,” said Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation Executive Director Brent Hugh. “It’s easily the equivalent of when the Katy Trail was first announced back in the 1980s.

“Most states don’t even get the opportunity to create one major cross-state trail,” continued Hugh. “Now, Missouri is building two interconnected cross-state trails. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and we’re very pleased that everyone involved, from Ameren to Missouri State Parks to Governor Jay Nixon, have the vision to make this cross-trail state a reality.”

Forty-six miles of Rock Island Trail is currently being constructed between Pleasant Hill and Windsor. The new 145-mile segment will extend east from Windsor to Beaufort, Mo., which is close to Washington. Officials in Jackson County are currently in negotiations with Union Pacific to purchase another 22-mile segment of the Rock Hill line from Pleasant Hill west to Kansas City. Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation reports that a preliminary deal to purchase this segment has been reached, with work progressing to finalize the deal.

Total Rock Island Trail mileage from Kansas City to Beaufort would equal 213 miles. The Katy Trail is now 240 miles. So, combined, the entire Katy/Rock Island system will be 453 miles.

Before that goal is reached, however, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Hugh explained that railbanking, which allows the owner of a railroad to “bank” a corridor for future use, in this case to convert it to a trail for public enjoyment, is a complex legal process that can take up from one to two years. “We will need to be vigilant to ensure that the railbanking effort stays on track,” wrote the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation in a statement released today.

After that, the rails and equipment will need to be salvaged. This may take from 12 to 18 months—perhaps more if difficulties are encountered. According to the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, Ameren has agreed to remove all of the rails and ties as part of the salvage process.

Finally, there is the trail construction itself, which take a decade to complete in whole. “We should see selected sections of the trail come online soon after salvage work is complete—optimistically, within one to three years,” wrote the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. “It may be a decade or more before we see a complete trail running from Windsor to Beaufurt, and then linking up with the Katy Trail near Washington.”

Long river bridges and a couple of tunnels will be difficult in terms of conversion to public use, but will also be major scenic attractions once the trail is complete. And with Missouri already being the reigning “Best Trails State,” an expanded Katy/Rock Island system could mean we’ll have a dynasty on our hands.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine.