The Missouri State Parks Foundation has joined with 20 partners and allies across the state whose collective goal is to secure the Rock Island Railroad corridor for future development as the Rock Island Trail State Park.

The Missouri General Assembly has created a fund into which philanthropic support for the development of the Rock Island Trail State Park can be deposited.

The Foundation's campaign for Connections: The Next Step seeks to raise $20 Million to enable the State to accept the Rock Island Trail State Park.

The former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad corridor extends from Windsor to Beaufort, Missouri. Once completed, the 144-mile Rock Island Trail State Park will create the opportunity to develop a 450-mile statewide public trail loop by connecting more than 240 miles of Katy Trail State Park.

First Things First

While the corridor to develop the Rock Island Trail State Park will be gifted to the State by it's current owner, Missouri Central Railroad-a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ameren, a major regional utility that serves large areas in Missouri and Illinois-funds must be raised to ensure the process of converting the former rail line into a public trail can take place.

Some of the major expenses will include fencing and installation, bridge and tunnel repairs and maintenance and long-term operating expenses. Once private funding is in place, adjacent towns will be able to access federal funds to develop their portions of the trail.


Change is here to stay

Even the history of the Rock Island Line offers a glimpse into the understandable and difficult tension that comes with change. Before the trails, there were railways; and before the railways, there were riverboats.... Construction began on the Rock Island railway on October 1, 1852. It was the first railroad to connect Chicago with the Mississippi River. The Rock Island Bridge, completed in April of 1856, crossed the Mississippi between Illinois and Iowa.

Two weeks after the bridge opened, a steamboat crashed into the new infrastructure. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but the steamboat was destroyed. 

 At the time, St. Louis was the steamboat capitol of the United States. Not surprisingly, there was growing tension between steamboat owners and the newest mode of transportation: trains.

In October of that same year, several steamboat owners filed a joint lawsuit against the Railroad Bridge Company with the hope of deterring new bridge construction and railway expansion. A young trial attorney was enlisted to defend the Railroad Bridge Company against the lawsuit. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Over a thousand pages of depositions were filed and a two month continuance was given before the case went before a judge. Lincoln gave his closing argument-making the case that bridges over navigable rivers were to the advantage of everyone.


The Trial lasted 15 days and included the testimony of 100 witnesses.

Over a hundred years later, it is the greatest hope of the Missouri State Parks Foundation that the addition for new trails, and the connections that will be made because of the , will benefit everyone: friends, neighbors and visitors to the State for generations to come.

Preserving History. Making Connections

The fully finished 191-mile Rock Island Trail State Park is already a quarter of the way completed. The 144 mile portion will extend the first 47 mile spur that connects the 240-mile Missouri Katy Trail State Park-already the longest, developed rail-trail path in the nation-with the Greater Kansas City area.

Missouri Central Railroad has offered to give the corridor to the State for the creation of a 144-mile tail. In cooperation with numerous agencies and organizations, MSPF will leverage private philanthropy and government grants to accept the lead gift from Missouri Central Railroad. The 1983 National Trails System Act allows the banking of rail corridors for interim trail use. Trails ensure that rail corridors remain available in the future if they should become needed for the state or country.

The passenger train that once ran along this rail allowed people to stay connected. It carried them from town to town-from where they were to were they wanted to be. This history of connections will be preserved through the development of a world-class trail loop around the state. As the train allowed communities to grow and remain vibrant rather than diminishing, the trail will help foster a renewed vitality.

© 2020 Missouri State Parks Foundation