Active transportation organization pushes for state trail expansion

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JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation hosted its 14th annual Capitol Day to discuss trail expansion with state legislators on Monday.

“Advocating for bicycle and pedestrian trails is not necessarily the first thing your elected representative would likely consider,” Brent Hugh, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation executive director, said. “Unless citizens come and talk to them about what’s important in their own communities, they are not mind readers.”

The organization advocated for expansion of the Rock Island Trail, a route that stretches 47 miles and intersects with the Katy Trail in Windsor, Missouri.

Ameren owns 144 miles of land that Missouri Department of Natural Resources could use to expand the trail from Kansas City to St. Louis. 

Hugh thinks extending the trail could generate more economic and social value to mid-Missouri and attract more tourists both within and outside the state.

“If we want our community to thrive, we have to have to invest in it first,” Hugh said. “This is some kind of investment that pays back so many dividends, and even pays for itself in its economic returns." 

A bill sponsored by Rep. Randy Pietzman, R-Troy, could prevent expansion of the Rock Island Trail. Pietzman introduced HB 698 to the House of Representatives in January, which would prohibit further land acquisition until all other state parks are restored as necessary.

Missouri has 56 state parks, including the Katy Trail, which would follow these conditions before the Department of Resources could acquire additional land. Pietzman said he was concerned about more than $200 million in deferred maintenance to the state’s parks system.

“The parks keep wanting to expand, but the problem is it looks like they have outgrown their revenue strength with the tax,” Pietzman said. "I’m not against the Rock Island Trail, I’m really just trying to bring some accountability back to a government agency that I think has been lacking for quite awhile.”

Greg Harris, executive director of the Rock Island Trail, said he understands Pietzman’s focus to maintain structure in existing state parks, but thinks new outdoor facilities could stimulate development for some mid-Missouri communities.

“When a community is all about better economic development, tourism, and transportation, people want to live there,” Harris said. “With all non-motorized transportation, people are outside and improving the quality of life.”

The bill reached floor action last month, but has not had a hearing since March 13. The bill is on the House calendar for perfection but does not have a timetable for discussion.

If the bill is not passed in its current session, expansion on the Rock Island Trail could start as soon as the Department of Natural Resources approves Ameren’s offer.

If the bill passes, Hugh thinks Pietzman would support an amendment to HB 698 that allows for expansion of Rock Island Park within the terms to improve other state parks since it would be acquired from a donation from Ameren.

“Sponsors of this park's bill have been open to the idea of amending the bill so it won’t prevent the state from acquiring the property," Hugh said. “We’re very optimistic that once we get the word out to our senators and representatives, they are going to be very receptive to the Rock Island Trail.”

Members from the federation also spoke with state legislators regarding state funding for bicycle and pedestrian trails.