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Recreational Trails Program Funds Crucial Link in Kansas City, Mo.

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 (RTP).

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, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/rectrails/

Images courtesy of Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and Kansas City River Trails, Inc.

Posted Tue, Dec 27 2011 12:00 PM by Jake Lynch

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