Investing in Rural Communities: The Economic Development and Health Impacts of Trails

The 191-mile Rock Island Trail is expected to breathe new life into dozens of small, rural communities in Missouri, which have been in decline since the days of the railroad. In conjunction with the existing Katy Trail (which has an estimated economic impact of $18.5 million per year) the Rock Island will complete a walking/bicycling loop that traverses more than 300 miles back and forth across the state. This panel discussion will explore the health and economic development benefits of rural trails through the eyes of a researcher, a business entrepreneur, a rural public health professional, and a trails advocate. 

Learning Objectives:

After this panel discussion, participants will be able to:

  • Discuss challenges facing rural communities today
  • Identify general benefits of walking/biking trails in rural communities
  • Give specific examples of trails benefiting rural economic development
  • Give specific examples of trails benefiting rural health
  • Relate the continuing story of the Rock Island Trail

About the Panel

  • Pat Curry: University of Missouri Extension, retired: Pat Curry is an analyst, planner, and entrepreneur with over thirty years of experience helping rural places find solutions to economic development challenges. He has authored over 100 plans and research papers during his career.
    As an entrepreneur he owns and manages a consulting company providing research and planning services to communities and businesses. He has a master’s degree in geography from Southern Illinois University.
  • Greg Harris: Executive Director, Missouri Rock Island Trail: Greg Harris has been Executive Director of Missouri Rock Island Trail since 2015. The non-profit coalition of communities, businesses and individuals seeks to preserve the 191 mile former Rock Island Railroad corridor as a recreational trail. The first 47 miles opened in December, 2016 as part of Katy Trail State Park and the next 144 miles is being rail-banked.
    Greg had retired from Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, MO as Executive Director of Development after 17 years, working to secure major gifts and planned gifts. Before that, he was Campaign Director for United Way of the Ozarks in Springfield 10 years. He has worked at Walt’s Bike Shop in Columbia, MO, managed Sunshine Cycles in Springfield, MO and Coventry Cycles in Wichita, KS. Greg was a sales rep for Trek in its early years.
    In the 1980’s, Greg was honored to volunteer with the late Darwin Hindman to secure endorsements in Springfield, MO for the Katy Trail. That led to serving on the Springfield-Greene County Park Board where Greg successfully proposed they preserve what is now the 35 mile Frisco High Line Trail to Bolivar, MO. That led to co-founding Ozark Greenways. He served a decade on the Trails Advisory Board for Missouri State Parks that awards $1.5 million per year for trails. Greg grew up in car-centric suburban St. Louis and enjoys walking or bicycling most days from his home in Rolla.
  • Kim Henderson is the owner of Kim’s Cabins in Windsor at the crossroads of the Katy and Rock Island trails.  Kim, and Windsor, have seen firsthand the economic impact of what trails can do for a small community.  After starting one cabin in 2015, three more were added by 2018.  Currently folks visit for all different reasons including trails.  Kim was previously City Administrator for the town of 2900, and a banker for 22 years.  Seeing young people come back to buy homes, start businesses, and raise their children in the small town has been one incentive.  Kim also serves on the Board of Missouri Rock Island Trail.
  • Tiffany Rutledge is a Registered Nurse with Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City, MO where she manages corporate, community and employee wellness services.  She has spearheaded numerous multi-county community health needs assessments where her skills as a connector have been able to bring together partners in public health, government, business, non-profit organizations, service providers into one space in order to collaborate on issues such as making a community more walkable
  • Ian Thomas, PhD: State and Local Program Director, America Walks: Ian Thomas is the State and Local Program Director with America Walks. In this role, he develops and delivers education programs for advocates, professionals, and elected officials, about the benefits of walkable communities and strategies to create them.
    From 2000 until 2013, Ian served as the founding Executive Director of the PedNet Coalition of Columbia, MO. During this time, he developed one of the largest Walking School Bus programs in the country, coordinated a campaign that led to Columbia adopting the first “complete streets’ policy in Missouri, and was instrumental in reducing neighborhood speed limits.
    In 2013 and again in 2016 and 2019, Ian won election to the Columbia City Council, where he continues to advance healthy and walkable community policies. He is a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council.