JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson approved legislation Wednesday allowing individuals and organizations to donate money to pay for Missouri’s second cross-state bike and pedestrian trail.
With state officials showing little appetite for funding the proposed Rock Island Trail with tax dollars, the new endowment program could help jump start the trail, which would begin in Franklin County in eastern Missouri and meet the popular Katy Trail in Windsor on the western side of the state.
Typically, a voter-approved sales tax funds state parks. But with the park system strained by a significant backlog of maintenance projects, supporters said using private dollars could help offset costs to the state.
“As the governor knows, we’re not flush with money,” said Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, who sponsored the measure.
Ameren and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are negotiating the donation of a former rail line that an Ameren subsidiary owns. But the DNR has raised concerns about the cost of running the trail.
In January, the two sides asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for a 180-day negotiation extension in talks over the donation. The extension is set to expire Aug. 20.
Though officials said they had made “substantial progress” in negotiating a trail-use agreement, the state and the railroad noted the “extreme complexity” of converting the line in their request. The proposed trail crosses 10 counties.
It would wind through Missouri communities including Beaufort, Leslie, Freeburg, Eldon and Versailles.
Warren Wood, Ameren vice president for regulatory and legislative affairs, said the St. Louis-based utility continues to work closely with DNR on an interim trail-use agreement.
“This is an important step in our efforts to move forward with this extraordinary outdoor recreation and economic development opportunity for the state,” Wood said.
DNR Director Carol Comer said the legislation is a “huge piece” of getting the future trail into the state’s park system.
“We’re very excited with this bill,” Comer said.
The governor signed the bill as parts of the 220-mile Katy Trail were just starting to reopen after months of flood-related closures. Most of the trail runs along the Missouri River, which has been out of its banks since May.
The legislation is Senate Bill 196.
Katy Trail may get a sister path that runs across Missouri
Crews are removing trees and brush from the old Rock Island Railroad line in south central Missouri in preparation to dismantle the rails for the possible building of a hiking and biking trail like the Katy Trail. Completion of the trail is still several years away.