Argyle trustees discuss potential as Rock Island trailhead

By Linda Adkins, Staff Writer
Posted 5/4/22

Argyle trustees met with representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state and national park services on April 21 to discuss progress toward converting the old …

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Argyle trustees discuss potential as Rock Island trailhead


Argyle trustees met with representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state and national park services on April 21 to discuss progress toward converting the old Rock Island Railway into a bicycling and hiking trail. 

Melanie Smith of Missouri State Parks shared an update on where they are with trail development, funding processes, and community development. 

The project has been ongoing for many years, with their first interim use agreement in 2012, the same year the first five-mile stretch was opened. The Rock Island Spur was opened in 2016. In December 2021, developers took possession of 144 miles of rail corridor, including Argyle. 

Smith said the right-of-way on the Katy Trail is traditionally 100 feet, but it will be less uniform on the Rock Island Trail. Some of the parcels were sold off to others prior to acquisition by the state. “In order for us to put a trailhead in a community, we are going to have to rely on the community as a partner,” Smith said. 

In Argyle’s case, the area controlled by developers is approximately 16 feet. “Large enough for a 12- foot trail, shoulder, and ditch,” Smith said, but the space is not adequate for a trailhead. 

Typically, a trailhead starts with parking, water, and bathrooms. An information depot provides a bench and shade for rest. Smith said that panels would have a map of the entire corridor, an area map with local attractions, and a section for local history and highlights. 

Mayor Ryan Davis had a question on behalf of the landowners attending the meeting. “If someone is interested in putting a trailhead on their property but does not want to sell the land, how would that work?” 

“If it was an official trailhead,” Smith responded, “we would either want to buy it, or we would want to do a long-term lease.” 

She added that if someone wanted to put in a campground, a license agreement could be developed. Anything that crosses the trail must have a license agreement. 

There will be hundreds of crossings with speed gates slowing bicyclists and pedestrians and alerting them to the crossing. Those speed gates also prevent vehicles and ATVs from entering the trail.

Davis asked about getting through those gates when needed. Smith responded that emergency responders are given keys. If a 911 call comes in from the trail, one of their rangers would be dispatched to the scene. 

Crossings will be marked with the road name, and traditional railroad mile markers will dot the trail, enabling stranded or injured hikers and bikers to pinpoint their location more closely if emergency personnel is needed. 

Davis asked whether local businesses could bid on doing the surfacing work or if that is handled entirely through developers. 

“We work with the local people as much as possible,” said Missouri State Parks Director David Kelly. “We’ll know more in a month where we are on funding.”

Smith went on to explain how fencing will be handled on the trail. “On the Katy Trail, if it’s new fencing, we have a policy where we would provide the materials, and the landowner would install it at a mutually agreed-upon place, typically on the right-of-way.”

State statute requires the Parks Department to maintain existing fencing on the Rock Island corridor. Smith says they do not have any staff or money to buy fencing materials at this time. 

“That’s kind of important, isn’t it?” asked area resident Scott Reichel.

“It’s important to have money to pay for it,” Smith answered. “That is correct.”

“That should be the first step in all this before you go any further, shouldn’t it?” Reichel responded.

“It is,” Kelly said. “We have a request in right now for fencing materials. That’s one of the requests we have in the legislature.”

Reichel noted that Ameren did not uphold the railroad’s easement agreement with landowners when ownership was transferred.

“That’s on us now,” Kelly said. “Our foundation has raised about $1 million to be used for staffing and fencing.” 

“I am fine with not putting any fence up and leaving it the way it is, and the cattle can run on the trail; that’s fine with me,” Reichel said.

Trustee Felicia Wieberg also asked about farmland and cattle. “If they don’t have time, resources, or money to put up the fence, are you going to be okay with cows crapping on the trail and if they get in the way of bikers?”

“We will need fencing anywhere there is cattle or other livestock,” Smith answered. “We’ll have to work that out on a case-by-case basis.”

Kelly reiterated they are responsible for the upkeep of existing fencing and will work individually with landowners requiring new fencing and urged Reichel to use the sign-up sheet to allow them to contact him.

Money for fencing will be available in July if the Senate approves the $69 million earmarked for the trail. A team will assess and help landowners with fencing needs, etc. 

“We are committed to working with you to take care of whatever needs you have,” said Kelly.

“That’s fine as long as it’s not coming out of my pocket,” Reichel said. “If it’s going to cost me to put your trail in, I’m not interested.” 

Smith discussed the use of the trail, including biking, hiking, and possibly horseback riding. Reichel asked if equestrian use was on part of the trail now, and if so, why not all the way through.

It takes more room to accommodate horse trailers at the trailhead, and there may not be space. Kelly explained that larger bridges and tunnels might also present issues for equestrian usage.

“If I’m a landowner and want to ride my horse on the trail, if they can do it in Versailles, I think I should be able to do it on my own property,” Reichel said. “I don’t need to park a trailer.”

“Scott, do you have a horse?” Davis asked.

“No,” Reichel responded, “but I’m getting one.”

Kelly said they are seeking input from communities to determine interest in equestrian use on the trail.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Reichel.

Davis thought it was a great idea but inquired what expectations Missouri Parks has for horse owners because they will (defecate) everywhere. 

Kelly responded that equestrian use results in a higher maintenance level for them. There are also issues with bikers and hikers approaching horses on the trail, which can be a problem.

Wieberg asked about liability issues with horseback riding on the trail. Smith noted that the responsibility would be the same if they rode their horse anywhere else. 

The trail will be open only for daytime use so anyone out there after dark should be reported to rangers. No overnight camping will be permitted on the trail. Smith suggested campgrounds could meet a need of trail users. 

Signage along the trail will show the difference between public and private property. 

Ron Densch with the National Parks Service discussed their services. Their team, led by Ashley Newson, works directly with communities like Argyle in the Community Support branch of the Parks Service. They provide conceptual plans and can assist with planning and landscape architecture.

He explained that the National Parks Service does not give grants, but their involvement “goes a long way” in the grant application process.

Kelly discussed Argyle’s opportunity for a trailhead. Generally, trailheads are around 10 miles apart, just like the stops on the railroad. Argyle is about seven miles from Freeburg and about 9.5 miles from Meta. “There are benefits to being a trailhead,” he stated.

“No doubt we would be interested, but we don’t have the property in town,” Davis said, “That was why I asked about a private landowner doing it.”

Davis asked about repairing and brush removal from the existing fence. It will be the responsibility of the trail overseers. They will maintain the existing fence, but there will be no spraying along the fence line. Landowners can spray on their own property if they choose.

“By the end of June, we’ll have this plan put together, identify potential trailheads and figure out the next steps in development, based on funding,” said Kelly. “We’ll have a better idea what the plan will be.”