Updated: Mar 8
An Interview with Ron Bentch, Rock Island Trail Development Coordinator
Ron Bentch, Rock Island Trail Development Coordination, Missouri State Parks
I had the opportunity this week to catch up with Ron Bentch of Missouri State Parks to talk about his new role as the Rock Island Trail Development Coordinator.
Tell us a little about your background
I am from Versailles, Missouri, which is a Rock Island Trail community; as a kid, I remember the trains going through town so this new role as the Rock Island Trail Development Coordinator is really exciting for the state and for me personally. Additionally, the Katy Trail has been a big part of my life for several years, as it is where I really developed my love for cycling and recreational trails; so it’s really exciting to work on this project that will enhance the Missouri State Park System.
Most of my professional career can really be summed as a relationship builder. From mission work in Africa, to working at Missourians for Responsible Transportation for several years, to six months with State Parks and the National Park Service; a lot of experience has been leading up to this new role.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role with the Rock Island Trail Project?
Of course! There are numerous departments involved with the Rock Island Trail within State Parks and my job is to pull all those pieces together to be the one point of contact for all things Rock Island Trail related. I also work extensively with the communities along the trail, landowners, and various community groups but I don’t do it all alone, Clint Barnett is the Rail Trail Project Manager for State Parks and he and I work closely to make the trail a reality.
Tell us a little about the Rock Island Corridor.
The Rock Island Corridor is a 144.3-mile section of the former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad that runs from Windsor, Missouri, to Beaufort, Missouri. Once completed, the 144-mile Rock Island Trail Corridor will create the opportunity to develop a 450-mile statewide public trail loop by connecting to more than 240 miles of Katy Trail State Park.
Because rail corridors generally have a 2% or less grade, trails built on former rail beds are easy for anyone to use. They provide free access to physical fitness activities for all. Rail trails also provide safe routes for children to walk and bike to school.
What has been the most challenging part of your new role?
Honestly, I think the most challenging part of my role has been the amount of misinformation that is out there about the Rock Island Trail. This is a big project and there are many people and communities involved, misinformation is always inevitable. However, Clint and I have been able to have a lot of great conversations and have been able to reframe a lot of the misinformation that has circulated.
What has been the most rewarding?
Meeting with the many different landowners and community members along the Rock Island Corridor. It’s been great getting to know the people and the communities along the trail and the whole experience has been really rewarding.
Can you give us a snapshot of where the Rock Island Trail project is right now?
The Corridor is established and currently belongs to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Currently, our biggest push right now is to be a good neighbor to the adjacent landowners. Clint and I are working hard to address fencing needs and that work is progressing nicely.
Owensville, Eldon, and Belle are all communities along the trail and all have secured grants to build Rock Island Trail within their city limits so we look forward to seeing that work begin soon. Other communities are currently applying for grants to build within their city limits and we are excited for them to start hearing back on their applications soon.
Tell us something we probably don't know about the Rock Island Trail.
Trespassing is an issue that Clint and I discuss frequently with landowners along the trail but many people don’t know that there is a Missouri State Statute that protects landowners from liability from trespassers.
How does the RIT compare to the Katy Trail?
The Rock Island Trail is a completely different experience compared to the Katy Trail. For one, the Rock Island goes right through the center of towns along the corridor. Trail visitors will get to experience many downtown areas along the trail which is really exciting.
Also, because of the topography of the Rock Island Trail, bridges on this trail are much higher and much longer. For example, one bridge on the Rock Island Trail is over 1,700 feet long.
And finally, there are some great tunnels that help make up the corridor. The Katy Trail has a tunnel in Rocheport that is 240 feet long and really incredible. The Rock Island Line Corridor’s longest tunnel is 1600 feet.
How can the public help?
Please, no trespassing. We may talk about many cool features along the Rock Island Corridor but please don’t go out on the trail. We have Park Rangers that can and do respond to reports of trespassing.
Visit the Missouri State Parks Rock Island Line Corridor page for a lot of great information about the trail and the work we’re doing.
If you know someone who is a landowner along the corridor, have them reach out to me with any questions they may have. Clint or I are both happy to help.
I'm thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to sit down with Ron Bentch to discuss the Rock Island Trail Project. The Missouri State Parks Foundation is currently fundraising for the development of the Rock Island Trail. It is the greatest hope of the MSPF that the development of the Rock Island Trail will benefit everyone: friends, neighbors and visitors to the State for generations to come.
Please continue to join us on social media every Tuesday for our new series: Rock Island Trail Tuesday. We will explore the communities along the trail, talk with the folks working hard to make the RIT a reality, and more.