The state of Missouri
received some terrific news last month with the announcement that 11 trail
projects would receive funding through the federal Recreational Trails Program
Notably, a $100,000 RTP grant will make possible a critical
link in Kansas City’s Riverfront Heritage Trail, a rail-trail that connects the
banks of the Missouri River with the historical
downtown area of the city, local parks and shopping areas.
The half-mile section of concrete trail to be funded by the
RTP grant is a terrific example of how relatively short connections can add
enormous value to regional trail systems. Connecting the eastern and southern
sections of the Riverfront Heritage Trail with the western branch into Kansas
City, Kan., just across the border, this small link now completes a hub reaching
out toward hundreds of miles of trail stretching north to Omaha, Neb., west
into Kansas, east along the Missouri River and south to Joplin, Mo.
“This is an unusually important segment of the broader trails
system,” says Darby Trotter, president of Kansas City River Trails, Inc., a
nonprofit corporation created to operate and maintain the Riverfront Heritage
Trail and promote trail use in the region. “What we have here is the hub of a
four-state trails system.”
For Trotter and fellow trail organizers, the half-mile
connector is the culmination of more than a decade’s work building the
Riverfront Heritage Trail and establishing river and rail-line crossings to connect
to communities and trails beyond the city itself.
“We see this as the end of Phase 1,” he says. “Phase 1 was
to build the hub to get to. Phase 2 is happening now – people are connecting
other trails to the system.”
Trotter says much of the most difficult, and most expensive,
work is already completed – bike and pedestrian crossings over the Missouri and
Kansas rivers, as well as over the busy network of active rail lines in Kansas
City’s central industrial district. Construction of the half-mile link is
expected to begin in early 2012.
If Kansas City can promote itself as a central trail
destination for hikers, bikers and riders embarking on, and returning from,
journeys all across the country, local businesses will have tapped into a
lucrative, and sustainable, economy.
Straddling the border between two states and two major
rivers, the Riverfront Heritage Trail and connecting pathways have been a
multi-jurisdictional effort, involving government agencies on both sides of the
border, as well as broad support from the regional private sector.
Though its recreational utility is much appreciated by
residents and visitors alike, the establishment of the Riverfront Heritage
Trail had a particular inspiration – local history.
“It was an attempt to bring people back to the riverfront,
back to their heritage,” Trotter says, adding that a lot of thought was put
into naming the trail. “And it was always important that the trail connect with
the oldest parts of the community – the initial settlements, the River Market.”
Today, the area’s history is portrayed in art works along
the trail – the journey of Lewis and Clark, and the less-heralded journey of
slaves escaping from Missouri to the free state of Kansas in the 1850s.
Though the area’s rich history was a catalyst for the trail,
its development is now guided by a forward-looking vision. Trotter, a senior
executive for a company that has been in Kansas City since 1886, says a number
of area business leaders can see the direct connection between amenities like
parks and trails, and strong population and commercial growth.
“Looking across the country, the progressive cities are
those which are making good use of their waterfront areas, riverfront areas,”
he says. “Up until recently, we weren’t doing that.”
A decade later, the Riverfront Heritage Trail is an integral
part of the community – popular and well-used. And though Trotter says city
authorities have been reactive rather than proactive in encouraging walking and
biking (“We had to pull them along kicking and screaming at times…”), there are
signs the message has been received; one of the goals of Kansas City’s new
master plan is to make the downtown area more walkable.
RTP grants like this one are funded by a small portion of
motor fuel excise taxes collected from recreational vehicle use. So, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles,
off-highway motorcycles – those vehicles that use recreational trails in some
states – help pay for the maintenance and establishment of such trails.
In addition to the Riverfront Heritage Trail link, RTP
grants in Missouri helped fund the widespread development and maintenance of
both motorized and non-motorized trails in Missouri State Parks, the
construction of a backcountry hiking trail in Roger Pryor Backcountry, Shannon
County, and a trail from the city of Greenville to Wappapello Lake.
For more information on the Recreational Trails Program,
Images courtesy of Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and Kansas City River Trails, Inc.
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