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Cyclists seek 2nd cross-state trail in Missouri

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 9, 2014 at 10:59 am •  Published: August 9, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri bicyclists proudly tout the Katy Trail as the nation's longest off-road route carved from a converted railroad line.

Now some two-wheel enthusiasts hope to convert another abandoned rail line into a second cross-state trail that could link up to the Katy, offer nearly 400 miles of soft gravel and further advance their eventual goal of a trail network spanning the length of Missouri, from St. Louis to Kansas City.

The proposed Missouri Rock Island Trail would stretch from Windsor in the west for about 130 miles to the Franklin County town of Beaufort in the east while twice crossing the 236-mile Katy Trail, which is also a state park. The project grew out of local trail efforts in communities such as Belle, Eldon, Gerald and Owensville but now has the backing of the nation's largest trails organization.

"It could be an amazing tourism draw for these communities," said Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. "We're looking at a (nearly) 400-mile trail system that would be the envy of all states."

A subsidiary of utility provider Ameren Corp. owns the Rock Island line, doing business as the Missouri Central Railroad Company. From Franklin County to St. Louis, 40 miles of the 200-mile rail corridor remain in use by freight operators.

To the west, Ameren is "finalizing arrangements" to transfer 42 miles of the Rock Island line to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of a 2008 settlement between the state and the St. Louis-based utility over the December 2005 collapse of the Taum Sauk Reservoir in southeast Missouri, according to a written statement. That will provide cyclist and pedestrian access to Pleasant Hill, on the edge of the Kansas City suburbs at what will be known as Rock Island State Park.

That still leaves 129 miles of Rock Island corridor from Windsor to towns north of Lake of the Ozarks such as Eldon and Owensville east to Beaufort, which is near both Union and Washington.

Ameren has issued a request for proposals and expects to decide by the end of August whether to sell or lease the land for the trail project or instead opt to sell the unused track to one of several salvage companies that have expressed interest. The trails project is being organized by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy with the support of the state parks system, said DNR spokeswoman Gena Terlizzi.

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