ELDON - Once a railroad town, Eldon is planning to go back to its roots. However, this time, it won't be trains departing from the old train depot in the center of town. As soon as the Rock Island Trail project takes off, organizers say it will not only bring a new hiking trail to town, but also new businesses and more jobs.
Mac McNally, with Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments, has been working on the project for about two years. He said it will help boost Eldon's economy.
"After I talked to a few people, and did a little bit of research, I found that building a trail or a park of some kind can improve the quality of life and attract new businesses to the area," McNally said.
The proposed three-mile trail runs from one side of town to the other, with the railroad depot and Rock Island Park as the trail head.
"We think that is a great start for the trail because it's located right downtown near a lot of the businesses," McNally said. "One of the key reasons to start this project was economic activity and if we could bring some outside dollars into the area, people want to bring their families up here, walk the trail or cycle along the trail, and then maybe shop in the stores or eat in the restaurants that's the main goal."
Vice President of the Eldon Chamber of Commerce Erik Svoboda said local business owners agree the trail would help bring more business.
"This is one of the best things we have going in Eldon to improve economic development, beautification," Svoboda said. "The Chamber couldn't be a part of a better activity."
Locals say boosting business isn't the only goal of the trail project. Community Resource Director Daphney Partridge said it will also be beneficial for Eldon residents.
"One of the things that we know makes a viable community, makes a community a place people want to live and raise their families, is they have to have access to opportunities for fitness that are safe and easy to get to," Partridge said.
The Rock Island trail task force is made up of community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments. So far, McNally said the task force has raised about $5,000 for the trail project and are in the process of applying for more grants through agencies like the National Park Service.
Community Resource Director Daphney Partridge said being awarded a grant of a volunteer team through the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) was a huge step in the project's progress.
"It [was] a competitive application process. We had to draw up a proposal for what our project would look like in Eldon, Missouri. We presented it to them and then they obligated a team to come to our community for five weeks," Partridge said.
The project leaders still have to get final approval from the owners of the railroad right-of-way, but community members are already rolling up their sleeves.
VISTA Supervisor Sharon Taylor organized a community workday that she said showed that community members are invested in this project.
"[The volunteers] have known that this trail had been in the mind of some citizens for a long, long time and they want to help make it happen," Taylor said.
"It just shows progress," Partridge said. "It shows that our community is coming together to support a project that's really important and I think that's a good feeling for our community, a good message to send out that we are moving forward in our community."
Leaders of the project said, if things continue to run smoothly, the trail could be completed by the end of 2014.