Belle plans MORIT workday June 2

BELLE — Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MORIT), is planning a public workday June 2, beginning at South Alvarado Avenue in Belle, to help clean up the Rock Island corridor.

MORIT Executive Director Greg Harris is asking community members to celebrate National Trails Day — June 2 —  and support the Rock Island Trail by picking up small pieces of railroad ties along the corridor. “There is not a lot to clean, but this is a chance for people to be legally on the corridor,” Harris said. “Belle does have the right-of-entry agreement with Ameren.”

Ameren UE told MORIT officials during the non-profit’s March board meeting that they would be ready to transfer ownership and responsibility of the former Rock Island Railroad around mid-to-late May to Missouri State Parks. 

Belle was awarded a $93,000 grant to build more than a mile of trail through town once the project receives the go-ahead from state. The community wants to be ready to proceed when permitted.

“Their grant is guaranteed until 2020,” Harris said.

Harris has advised participants to wear gloves and bring trash bags for the pickup.

“We are still working on what exactly we want to accomplish, but it would be nice if there was some groups that would like to sponsor printing some flyers,” Harris said.

First State Community Bank is already sponsoring a set of flyers for the group.

Missouri State Parks has been withholding a decision about whether or not they will accept the donation of the trail. 

According to Missouri State Parks’ frequently asked questions tab on their website, the system is taking a long time to make a decision regarding the corridor because the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has granted an extension and Parks intends to obtain a right-of-entry to the corridor in order to gain a better understanding of the condition and potential costs involved in trail development.

The city of Belle also requested an extension on their grant, hoping they will still be able to bring the trail up to par through the city limits. 

“They have 6,800 feet through town,” Harris said of the city of Belle. “That’s more than a mile from Alvarado Avenue to the Belle City Park.”

State Parks indicated the conversion of the corridor into a trail stands to be a significant undertaking, and that it is essential to gain a better understanding of the costs, liabilities, and benefits of this potential project.

According to State Parks, the experience and figures gathered from the 47 miles of construction of the Rock Island Spur of the Katy Trail in 2016 translated into a preliminary cost estimate of between $65 million and $85 million to fully complete the 144-mile trail. State Parks said these are only initial estimates, and more accurate figures will not be available until Missouri State Parks can complete its due diligence.

However, the trail is not required to be completed all at once or with public funds. Already, communities along the line have been donating funds and have volunteers to complete the trail through their own towns with corporate and private funds. “We would like potential investors to visit with us on the clean up day,” Harris said “We have invited our advisory board, and board of directors already.”

State Parks acknowledges that the trail would have to be built in sections over years, similar to how the Katy Trail was completed.

After the Rock Island is complete, State Parks estimates it would take $576,000, or $4,000 per mile/per year, to operate and maintain a new trail. That is not taking volunteers or community support into consideration.

More information about the event can be found on MORIT’s Facebook page, rockislandtrail.org. Answers to further questions may be found on mostateparks.com/rockislandlinecorridor.

Harris added that MORIT is working to meet with State Parks officials on a regular basis and check in on the progress of the trail.

“We had intended to meet for an hour with our contacts and got a message that they would only be available for half an hour,” Harris said. “We are trying to reschedule.”

Until then, Harris said what they hope is obvious: to get people on the trail and see what it could be. He said they are doing their best to make accepting the trail the obvious thing to do. “This is a good way to show support for the trail,” Harris said.