Multimedia Journalist

State considering Rock Island Trail Endowment Fund

The Missouri Legislature is moving forward on an endowment fund for the proposed Rock Island Trail.

The 144-mile rail corridor is being donated to Missouri Department of Natural Resources by Ameren. If accepted, the Rock Island Trail would require management from Missouri State Parks.

On Monday, Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, introduced SB473 to the Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources committee. Bernskoetter represents District 6, which includes Cole, Moniteau, Miller, Morgan, Osage and Gasconade counties.

The bill states grants, gifts, donations, or bequest of moneys, funds, real or personal property, or other assets for the trail would be deposited with the state treasurer, who would be responsible for all money in the fund.

An identical bill in the House, HB 1044, was introduced by Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, in March. The Conservation and Natural Resources committee reported a 9-0 vote in favor of the fund March 28.

Wood previously told the News Tribune the fund is needed.

“If we’re going to keep the funding for the trail separate — we want to make sure the funding for roads and bridges comes ahead of funding for the trail,” Wood said.

The large Mennonite population around Versailles would benefit from safer travel on the trail, he added.

On Monday, officials from Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Foundation for Bicycling and Walking, Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc. and others testified in favor of the fund. No opposed concerns were voiced.

Rich Germinder, DNR director of policy and legislative affairs, said the most important detail for them is protecting the current 91 parks and historic sites in the system.

“We want to make sure with every decision that we make sure that decision does not impact those existing parks and historic sites,” Germinder said.

MoRIT executive director Greg Harris spoke to potential agriculture concerns. He said the trail could use cattle crossing gates which are currently used in an already developed trail near Kansas City.

An additional eight testimonies were heard including Jefferson City Ward 2 Councilman Rick Mihalevich and Brent Hugh, Missouri Foundation for Bicycling and Walking executive director.

“There aren’t many 144-mile stretches of trails that can be developed anywhere in the world — certainly not in (this) country,” Hugh said. “It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think the number one reason to support this bill that creates this fund is (because) this fund is going to allow the opportunity for us to leverage any state dollars that go into this bill.”

Trail supporter Roger Gaunt, of Kansas City, previously told News Tribune he has $100,000 included in his will to donate to the trail.

“I believe in the rails-to-trails concept,” Gaunt said.

DNR has until Aug. 20 to accept the donation.

The bill states funds for the trail would be expended, refunded or transferred only if the General Assembly assigns it elsewhere.

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