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Katy Trail bike ride

Don Hornberger, from Cincinnati, Ohio, rides through the streaks of sunlight shining through the trees along the Katy Trail in Weldon Spring on October, 16, 2017. Hornberger and five friends began biking a week earlier in Pleasant Hill, Mo. on the Rock Island Trail before connecting to the Katy Trail. Monday was the final day of their ride. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri House on Tuesday endorsed the creation of a private endowment that would help fund a proposed 144-mile bike trail across the state.

Ameren and the 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 what would be known as the Rock Island Trail.

The former rail line, stretching from Beaufort in Franklin County to Windsor in western Missouri, would resemble the Katy Trail, another former rail line popular with hikers and cyclists. The two trails would meet at Windsor.

Rock Island Trail

A voter-approved sales tax funds state parks, and those resources are already spread thin, said Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, whose district would include the trail. He said the private money would help offset costs to the state.

“We don’t want to put any further strain on the sales tax that goes to state parks,” he said. “We want to maintain the ones (parks) that we have. This provides us a little bit of control with that.”

Wood said communities in his area are hoping to scoop up tourism revenue that would likely come with the addition of a new state park.

Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said the benefits would be similar to those that accompanied the Katy Trail’s construction in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I imagine a lot of communities, especially in rural Missouri, would be interested in seeing some of the economic development that could happen,” Kendrick said.

Lawmakers attached language authorizing the endowment onto another piece of legislation dealing with state parks concessionaires. The underlying bill must still win final approval in the House before moving to the Senate for consideration.

If the trail is not constructed, donations to the fund would be returned to their donor, according to Wood’s amendment.

In January, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Central Railroad, an Ameren subsidiary, asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for a 180-day negotiation extension in talks over the donation.

Though the two sides 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’s going to take a long time to complete this project,” Wood said Tuesday. “I don’t know that I’ll be able to ride a bicycle by the time it’s done, but it will make one of the longest, contiguous bike trails in the world because it does connect to the Katy.”

The legislation is House Bill 1206 and House Bill 1044.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.