Missourians protect the Rock Island Trail

Hope Howard

BELLE, Mo. -- L.T. Dobkins, owner of the Chuck Wagon Cafe in Belle, Missouri, has a trailer full of bicycles. He is planning on opening another small business which would allow people to rent bikes and explore what he hopes will become one of the largest rail-trail initiatives in the U.S. Yet, Dobkins doesn’t know if this business can become a reality until Gov. Eric Greitens decides if the state will move forward with developing the trail.  

The fate of the Rock Island Trail has been in the hands of many powerful people–from the U.S. Supreme Court to Gov. Greitens. The people who live in Belle, a town that borders the Rock Island Trail, don’t know if the land will be developed anytime soon. Yet, they are the people that are most directly affected by the trail’s development.

In 2016, former Gov. Jay Nixon announced that the land was being donated to the state of Missouri by Ameren, a St. Louis-based power company which currently owns the land. But in June of 2017, Richard Huse, the alderman of Belle was asked to “suspend” development of the trail to allow state agencies sufficient time to “evaluate its options with Missouri Central Railroad,” according to the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation.

The state is performing a cost-benefit analysis to see if is worth developing the 144-mile trail. Ultimately, the goal of the Rock Island Trail is to connect to the Katy Trail. Together, the two trails would create a loop from Kansas City to St. Louis and would extend over 450 miles.

Huse said he realizes that it will be costly for the state to fix the trail but hopes the governor will make a decision that is in the best interest of small towns.

“What I am asking the state is to at least accept this gift,” said Huse, who also serves as the trail administrator for the town of Belle. “If they don't develop it for good long time at least let us develop portions of it as we can. That would help us a lot."

Citizens of Belle aren’t the only Missourians protective of their land. The same issue occurred when the state planned to advance part of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad into the Katy, which happened to run through 13 landowners’ properties.

The advancement of the trail incited enough backlash that a case went to the Supreme Court where judges ruled that the U.S. government had to pay $410,000 to each of the 13 landowners in return for taking over their land. In the case of the Rock Island Trail, just south of the Katy, the federal government would subsidize landowners for their property.

Some residents in Belle believe the Rock Island Trail will be beneficial after seeing positive results from the economic impact of the Katy.

The Katy cost 6 million to build, but has resulted in $10.4 million in direct spending and $8.1 million in indirect spending, according to a study by Missouri State Parks.

Professor Stephen Jeanetta is the State Extension Community Development Specialist and Community Development Education Director. He believes the Rock Island Trail will have financial benefits in Belle, too.

"A lot of smaller communities will benefit from the trails,” said Jeanetta. “The research I have looked at for local users [show that they] might spend anywhere from $15 to $25 a day. Out-of-towners will spend anywhere from $100 to $125 a day.”

The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, a nonprofit that aims to “make better, safer bicycling, walking, and trails across the state of Missouri,” is currently urging Missourians to contact the governor’s office in support of the Rock Island Trail.

Gov. Greitens has not decided if the state of Missouri will accept the donation of the trail but is expected to make a decision later this year.

Until then, Dobkins’ will keep his trailer of bicycles ready for potential riders along the Rock Island Trail.

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