Rock Island Corridor–Now, Rock Island Trail State Park!
On December 14th, 2021, Missouri State Parks announced that it will accept the 144-mile abandoned Rock Island rail corridor as Missouri’s newest state park! After a years-long effort to raise awareness, grow support, and campaign financially for the establishment for the Rock Island Trail extension, 2021 marked an acceleration of this process.
Over the past 3 years, MRT has worked to establish a relationship and trust with the Department of Natural Resources and Missouri State Parks. In 2019, MRT led an effort to seek proposals from fundraising firms to conduct a study of raising funds for the Rock Island Trail. Through this process a firm was hired to conduct a study, which led to MO State Parks entering into an interim trail use agreement that was signed in December 2019. The fundraising firm was retained and a fundraising team was formed. MRT’s Project Director Ron Bentch, along with members from the MRT leadership team, Eric Rogers and Taylor March, joined the Rock Island Trail Campaign Cabinet. Mary Kromrey, also from the MRT leadership team, serves as a board member for the Missouri State Parks Foundation. Along with representatives from organizations including Missouri State Parks, Missouri State Parks Foundation, and Missouri Parks Association, MRT has hosted informational calls throughout 2021 to lead efforts to fundraise for the financing necessary to secure the corridor for future use as a public trail.
Now that the corridor is accepted as a future state park and our work on the Rock Island Trail initiative shifts, MRT is exploring opportunities to work directly with the University of Missouri Extension on assessing the current status of communities along the trail. A research study is being developed to identify key health and economic indicators for the communities along the trail, and to return and assess these indicators after implementation of the trail. The goal of this project will be to learn about the power of interconnected trails, and to determine how they can improve the lives of individuals within these communities.
Further information about the progress on the trail development and about upcoming informational meetings can be found via the Missouri State Parks’ Rock Island Corridor website. Donations towards the development of the trail can be made via the Missouri State Parks Foundation.
Missouri Hands-Free Coalition
The Missouri Hands-Free Coalition established a mission to “Eliminate distracted driving-related injuries and deaths on Missouri roadways through policy, education, and collaboration.” The coalition is formed from more than 40 partner organizations ranging from state legislators, victim advocates, law enforcement, educational institutions, insurance groups, non-profits, and more. MRT partners in the coalition are Ron Bentch, John Montgomery, Michael Kelley, Taylor March, Kevin Hahn, Jackson Hotaling, and Lawrence Simonson. The coalition has been lauded as a national model for other states to follow, and a national coalition was formed with representation from MRT.
Ron Bentch coordinates monthly meetings as well as working group meetings (including Capitol/Lobby, Data Education, and Victims’ Advocates). Additional headway is made through Capitol lobby days and distracted driving awareness days, organized by the coalition to bring to attention the issue of distracted driving to the state legislature. An educational program in Fall 2021, the “Buckle Up/Phone Down High School Showdown” allowed schools to compete for prizes while learning actively and raising awareness about the problems associated with distracted driving.
At the start of Missouri’s 2022 legislative session, five state representatives and two state senators filed bills that aim to address distracted driving legislation. Some of these bills utilize language from either the Missouri Department of Transportation or AAA Missouri, both of whom have members on the Missouri Hands-Free Coalition. One of the legislators that is sponsoring distracted driving legislation–Representative Jeff Porter–was also recently named Chair of the Missouri House of Representatives Transportation Committee.
Updates for the Missouri Hands Free Coalition can be found via their Facebook page.
Missouri Livable Streets (MOLS)
Missouri Livable Streets is an initiative sponsored by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). DHSS contracts with MRT to lead the Missouri Livable Streets Advisory Team Steering Committee, and several MRT and MRT partner organization staff serve on the steering committee and the MOLS sub-committees of Advocacy, Funding, Education, and Partnerships. In 2020, MRT moved the quarterly meetings from an in-person to a virtual setting and expanded the representation of the committee to include a broad range of stakeholders from around the state. Several goals and objectives have been identified by the committee. These include:
MRT supports MU Extension and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on a grant called Active Living Communities of Practice (ALCP). This grant is a State Physical Activity and Nutrition grant, awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a five-year period in 2018. The goal of this grant is to work with communities to adopt active transportation policies, and to develop strategies through planning to enhance the connectedness within communities to everyday destinations.
A major highlight of our work in 2021 with the ALCP opportunity was to bring communities to one of four training sessions. Our MRT partner organizations hosted communities from across the state in Kansas City (hosted by BikeWalkKC), St. Louis (hosted by Trailnet), Springfield (hosted by Ozark Greenways), and Columbia (hosted by PedNet Coalition, now known as Local Motion). During these trainings, members of communities got to see and experience multimodal transportation systems in practice, such as viewing bulb outs, protected bike lanes, and trail connections, while also having the opportunity to interact with advocates and city staff that have personal knowledge of these infrastructure improvements.
Heading into 2022, we are pursuing additional consulting opportunities, including with DHSS/Better Communities for Better Health (BCBH). The goals for this consulting opportunity will be to:
Working with Grants
Work has steadily carried forward with our Anonymous Donor grant, which allows us to serve ten rural Missouri communities. In addition to our work in Clinton, Hermitage, Stover, Appleton City, and Hickory County, we expanded our work on this grant in 2021 to five more communities: Lincoln, Warsaw, Lowry City, Wheatland, and Windsor. Walk audit documents have been completed for eight of the ten communities, and action planning is underway for several of the communities.
We are also excited to announce that in December, Missouri Foundation for Health awarded MRT with a 2-year, $340,730 grant. This opportunity will fund efforts to collaborate more closely with Regional Planning Commissions to better coordinate and effect positive changes for walking, biking, and transit access on the regional level.
Participation in Other Organizations
We serve on working groups and as members of several other local, state, and national level organizations that focus on forwarding the goals of our mission. MRT has a presence: