Rock Island Trail supporters plan donations at March meeting

Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

Visitors at the March 28 Missouri Rock Island Trail (MoRIT) meeting included at least two who planned to pledge $5,000 to $100,000 to the trail.

Roger Gaunt of Gladstone and John H.K. Sweet, M.D., of the William A. Kurr Foundation, St. Louis, have both pledged eventual funds to the trail — through death or acceptance of the trail respectively.

“It is in my will,” Gaunt said about his pledge to donate 5 percent of his net-worth to the trail. “It’s actually higher than that ($100,000).”

His future donation has not been publicized very much, said Gaunt, who is also on the board of directors of the Osage Vista’s condominium complex at Osage Beach. His interest in the trail is a natural one, after frequently driving past the line between Kansas City and Osage Beach. 

“I drive Highway 52 right past the trail every day and think what a waste! No one has done anything with it,” Gaunt said. “Originally I wanted to split it up, but at the time I did this, MoRIT barely existed.”

The Kansas City and the 47 miles from Pleasant Hill to Windsor had not happened when Gaunt first showed interest in leaving funds of the trail.

“Those properties are both government sponsored and MoRIT needs my money more than they do, so I changed it,” Gaunt said.

The funds that Gaunt plans to leave MoRIT is currently tied up in a 45-55 split of stocks and bonds. He plans for the funds to be double their current value before passing it on to MoRIT.

Gaunt had open heart surgery recently and went “code blue,” meaning his heart stopped. He jokes that MoRIT could have already received the funds he has left for them.

“At that amount, it wouldn’t take a lot,” said Gaunt, who loves to walk the trails. 

After his recent health issues and his wife’s knee surgeries, Gaunt believes he will have to use something motorized for he and his wife to enjoy the trail together. He encourages others to consider leaving a portion of their estate to the trail.

“I think it is a tremendous opportunity for the people of the state to take advantage of a real opportunity,” Gaunt said. “I don’t understand why it is such a hard sell.”

Gaunt said compared to the Katy Trail and what it has done for the state, and matching the Katy with the Rock Island, it should be a tremendous match.

Gaunt is a business owner himself, but says he has no plans to build up a business along the trail.

Sweet, from the Kerr Foundation, is no stranger to local Rock Island Trail supporters. At the city of Belle’s July 2018 meeting, it was the Kerr Foundation that offered to financially back the city’s $72,000 Recreational Trails Program grant so they could start building their section through the city limits. 

City officials wrote to the Department of Natural Resources, Missouri State Parks (MSP), and even the governor’s office requesting permission to start the project. They were later informed by MSP Deputy Director Mike Sutherland that their grant had been deobligated at an April 2018 meeting. The request MSP had sent to the city in June to deobligate the Recreational Trails Program grant was merely a formality, according to Sutherland.

At the March 29 meeting, Sweet asked what had happened with the city of Belle’s grant, and was disappointed to hear of the outcome.

“I am getting old, so I want this done before I’m dead,” the Kerr Foundation’s co-trustee said. “What’s the point of living to 100 if it’s not going to happen?”

Sweet said he has lots of prior commitments, but feels being the first person to jump in and pledge a little money, having the name out there, shows that someone is willing to give.

“I love biking and I love this trail idea,” Sweet said. “I am supportive of amenities and the little towns doing their own thing there.”

Sweet said the Kerr Foundation is very small and he shares the yearly allotment between himself and his brother in California. He personally awards $300,000 in funds a year to entities.

“I am willingly to hear about some of these things, but I have been willing to hear about a lot of things and if they all go through, I am doomed,” Sweet laughed. “I am more interested in the eastern side than the western side because I am in St. Louis, and I am also interested in getting it connected so I can ride my bicycle from east St. Louis to Belle someday.”

Sweet has already given money to the Missouri Rock Island Trail foundation.

“Last year was $10,000 and I am about to give another $5,000 next week,” Sweet said.

He couldn’t remember if he had given $5,000 the previous year. 

“Last year’s $5,000 was to help them do the economic study that they paid Mizzou for,” Sweet said. “I’d rather see miles and we are not interested in naming rights. We would rather be seen with other people who did something too.”

While MoRIT currently works with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to collect donations, pledges and bequeathments, Senate Bill No. 473 and House Bill 1044 are both meant to set up a fund for the Rock Island Trail State Park Endowment.

The endowment fund would be created in the state treasury to accept any grants, gifts, donations, devises or bequests of moneys, funds, real or personal property or other assets to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for operation, maintenance or security of any portion of the former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad corridor.

All income, interest, rights or rent earned through the operation of the fund shall also be credited to the fund.

The fund may be used by DNR for the purpose of operating, maintaining and securing any portion of the former railroads. The proposals were scheduled to be heard in committee on April 1.