A 144-mile stretch of the former Rock Island rail line is set to be transferred to the state by the end of 2017 for eventual use as a bike trail, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said at a news conference Wednesday.
That land is being donated by Ameren, which bought the Rock Island corridor in 1999 through a subsidiary. Crews already have started work clearing brush and removing rail and ties.
But key details remain unknown, including the cost of building the trail, how it will be funded, when it could open and the amount of tax breaks Ameren will receive for its donation.
The chunk of land set to be transferred runs between Beaufort, which is west of Union in Franklin County, and Windsor, about 90 miles southeast of Kansas City.
The land is expected to be transferred after the rail line has been ripped out, which could take until the end of 2017.
The state is working to get access agreements to the land so engineers can make inspections, which will help determine costs, said Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks.
Hundreds of landowners in Missouri have filed suit against the federal government since the Surface Transportation Board in 2015 granted interim recreational trail use of that 144-mile section.
Nixon said that while he respects the rights of people to litigate, the law about trails is well-settled. It’s a battle he knows well from legal challenges to building the Katy Trail during his tenure as attorney general.
“I do not expect the litigation threats or challenges along this line to be nearly as time-slowing,” Nixon said.
He also said the legal actions did not prohibit the state from developing non-challenged portions of the trail.
He touted the Rock Island trail as a second cross-state trail with a much different look to it than the popular Katy Trail.
He said that while the Katy Trail’s route parallels the Missouri River, the Rock Island line will run further south and give a more expansive view of the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains.
“The Rock Island trail is a much different type of experience,” he said, one that will include views not seen on the Katy of forests and caves.
Nixon also said Wednesday that attendance at state parks surpassed 20 million visitors this year, a first in the state’s history.
To see a map of the proposed trail, go to www.bikerockisland.com