Rock Island Trail organizers meet with Columbia officials

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COLUMBIA - City officials in Columbia are hoping to cash in on a new trail that will cross the entire state of Missouri. 
The Rock Island Trail was discussed Thursday morning by city officials and cyclists from all over the country about the possible opportunities the trail will bring to Columbia.
The new trail will intersect with the Katy Trail in the small town of Windsor, southwest of Columbia. 
"The Rock Island Trail will be a huge economic boom for the entire state of Missouri. It will connect the entire state and if we can connect our trails to the Rock Island Trail, just like we did to the Katy Trail, then it will be certainly even more of an economic impact to Columbia as well," Mike Griggs, Columbia Parks and Recreation Director,  said. 
He said trails are a vital part to any successful community.
"Trails are not just a non-motorized transportation aspect. It has its own health and safety, and exercise benefits as well, but really, it's also a commercial enterprise. It brings economic development into Columbia," Griggs said.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a the nation's largest trails organization.
Keith Laughlin, President of Rails-to-Trails, traveled to Columbia, along with other cyclists from across the country, to discuss the opportunities of the future Rock Island Trail.

"The Rock Island Trail is probably the best opportunity to build a magnificent trail that's happened in the last 20 years and it's the first time in that length of time that we've had something as long as 144 miles in one stretch available to turn into a trail," Laughlin said.

Beyond that, he said its connection to the Katy Trail would be even more significant.

"There's an opportunity here to create a 450 to 500-mile trail system across the entire state of Missouri, linking St. Louis and Kansas City with Columbia in the middle."

Mayor Brian Treece also took part in the discussion.

"It attracts a number of bicyclers and enthusiasts to Columbia. It's great for our tourism, it's great for Columbia's economy and it really helps people imagine was Missouri was like when the train came through and the Missouri of 100 years ago," Treece said.

Jeff Doppelt is a cyclist who said the Katy Trail is one of the best trails in the nation.

"It's been amazing, the trail is in a phenomenal state, shady, mostly along the Missouri river. It's really a beautiful, tremendous amenity."

He supports further development of the Rock Island Trail.

"In the last two or three years I've given 40,000 dollars to that Missouri Rock Island Trail, so if you don't think I think that's important, that's a lot of money to give to a trail for someone coming from New York," Doppelt said. 

Laughlin said there is potential to make Missouri's trail system and international destination for cyclists.

"Missouri is already one of the cheap biking destinations in the country because of the Katy Trail and I think that with the development with Rock Island it won't just be a destination for people in the United States I think it will be a destination for cyclists from around the world," Laughlin said.