Local cyclist and retired CPA Daniel Pilliard is advocating for the expansion of the Rock Island Trail, a spur to the Katy Trail which crosses through Sedalia. The first 47 miles of the Rock Island Trail, spanning from Pleasant Hill to Windsor, was opened Dec. 10, 2016. The remainder of the trail which includes Ionia, Cole Camp, Stover, Versailles and small towns nearly to Union are in a political limbo as Gov. Eric R. Greitens reconsiders the state’s commitment to the project.
Pilliard, a board member of the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc., (MoRIT) noted that the former administration had approved the 144 mile trail for use by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Greitens has placed a hold on the project.
Since 2011, Pilliard has traveled by bicycle across every Continent except Antarctica. Last year he bicycled across India; next year he plans to travel down western Africa. He noted that the Rock Island Trail, would be an internationally recognized loop trail that would draw cyclists for all over the world.
Pilliard said at present there is no money involved, but said Greitens is probably considering the future costs of maintenance and upkeep for the trail. The unopened portion of the trail is owned by AMEREN, a utility company out of St. Louis.
“AMEREN has already committed to giving it to the state,” Pilliard added. “Our previous Governor (Jay Nixon) said we’ll accept it, but Greitens has put a hold on it and wants to reexamine the whole issue. It’s just a matter of signing the papers and the DNR would own the thing.”
One difference between the Rock Island and the Katy Trail, are the large amount of small towns scattered along the Rock Island’s route. Bringing the trail through small Missouri towns would boost the economy for each. According to information from the Missouri State Parks website the Katy Trail has 400,000 annual users with an economic impact of $18 million. In anticipation of the Rock Island Trail, Eldon is building Rock Island Village while in Gerald the Rock Island Trail Retreat is being created.
On the spur recently opened in December, Pilliard said the towns of Leeton and Chillhowee have prospered.
“They are excited,” he added. “These towns have been abandoned for 30 years, and all of a sudden they are seeing some people. So, the little convenience store is getting a little more business, and maybe there will be a grocery store. It’s already happening to a certain extent in those two towns.
“The Katy Trail (goes) through Windsor, but by being the crossroads of the Katy Trail and the Rock Island they are seeing a lot more activity,” he said. “The hotel has done improvements and is full on a number of nights. It’s bringing commerce and the restaurants are are being affected. One lady is building cabins as a result of the trail, so there is economic activity.”
Once the trail is complete it will make a complete loop connecting to the 240 mile Katy Trail, which will be a great advantage for bicyclists.
“No one in the world has a loop, there’s lots of trails, and there is more and more in every state every year,” he noted. “But, to have a loop in the center of your state would be something nobody else has.
“We were the first to get the Katy Trail, to pretty much have a trail all across the state,” he added. “That was pretty phenomenal.”
Pilliard said MoRIT hopes people will contact Gov. Greitens and show public support for the Rock Island Trail.
“We would at least like the Governor to accept it, all he needs to do is sign the papers,” he said. “We can worry about development in the future. We think this is a long-term project.”
Those who wish to show their support of the Rock Island Trail should visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YRQX56F. According to MoRIT the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit coalition of citizens and communities dedicated to preserving the Rock Island corridor as “linear” park. For more information visit wwwrockislandtrail.org.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 660-530-0289 or on Twitter @flbemiss.