Rails to trails: The project transforming the Rock Island Corridor

A bike trail currently under construction in Jackson County will eventually connect the Kansas City metro area to the Katy Trail. (KCTV5)

A bike trail currently under construction in Jackson County will eventually connect the Kansas City metro area to the Katy Trail.

Portions of the Rock Island Corridor, a bike and pedestrian trail built over an abandoned rail line, will be completed later this year. Cyclists like Alex Pirnie are excited to see what the trail will bring.

Pirnie frequently bikes more than 100 miles a week, striking out whenever he can get a few days off work. In place of a wedding ring, he has a tattoo of a bicycle on his left index finger.

“This is me being married to my bike,” he said.

Pirnie’s choice route is the Katy Trail, the 380-mile bike path that runs from Clinton to St. Charles. It’s flat, scenic and quiet. He’s ridden as far as Sedalia, where he hops aboard the Amtrak line to return to Lee’s Summit.

“I love what’s over that hill,” Pirnie said. “How much further can I go?”

The completed Rock Island Trail will connect to the Katy near Pleasant Hill and stretch north to the Truman Sports Complex. Eventually, city projects will connect it to the Brush Creek Trail, which runs to the Kansas City Plaza.

It’s a prospect that excites bike and pedestrian advocates like Eric Bunch of BikeWalkKC.

“In the not so distant future,” Bunch said, “someone's going to be able to hop on a trail down on the Plaza and go all the way to St. Louis if they wish.”

The trail is an exciting project for cyclists, but also those interested in the history of the corridor.

Matt Davis, a project manager for the Rock Island Trail, told KCTV5 News the undertaking is partly about preserving the history of the corridor and landmarks along the way.

The Vale Tunnel, for instance, is a 450-foot stone passage where the Rock Island Railroad once passed under Bannister Rd. The tunnel has been virtually abandoned since the 1970s when the railroad went bankrupt.

“We found evidence of campfires and beer cans down here,” Davis said. “Some grafitti.”

The completed trail will pass right through the tunnel.

“Our goal is to get it to where it is new again,” Davis said.

The bike path will run near downtown areas in Lee’s Summit and Raytown, offering opportunities for economic development along the route.

It will pass right by Crane Brewing Company, which Chris Meyers owns.

“I hope we can become a destination,” Meyers said. “People know where they can stop and take a rest, a nice little mile marker as they go down the trail.”

Pirnie is excited about the trail for another reason – his day job. Pirnie is a railroad engineer for BNSF.

What once carried coal and freight will soon carry his bike.

“I can’t wait for the trail to be open,” he said.

Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.



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