Windsor — Kim Henderson has put together four modest log cabins a few blocks back on Main Street in this small town 90 minutes southeast of Kansas City.
“I’ve told people so many times – and I still mean it – that I’ve made more cottages for Windsor than I do for myself,” Henderson said.
Windsor has a population of approximately 2,900 and is where the Katy Trail meets the 47-mile existing Rock Island Trail. Both are two former rail corridors. A now world-renowned outdoor recreation destination. The other is only a quarter complete.
Henderson is now a small business owner and has lived in Windsor for over 30 years. She sees the benefits of the Katy Trail for her community.
“It brings people here who would never come to Windsor, Missouri,” Henderson said.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources officially acquired the remaining 144 miles of undeveloped Rock Island Corridor in 2021. Plans for this trail have been in the works for longer. Henderson eagerly awaits the creation of the Rock Island Trail and looks forward to following the outline map.
“I watched the 47-mile dotted line for 15 years,” Henderson said. “I looked at the dotted line…I waited.”
Current Missouri Governor. Jay Nixon committed to completing the first 47 miles of the Rock Island Trail before leaving office, and Henderson bought two parcels of land where it intersected with the Katy Trail. She started renting out her first cottage in 2015.
“My first guests weren’t even cyclists,” Henderson said.
Two years later, local Amish carpenters built two more cabins for Henderson. She provided them with items from the Windsor family-owned furniture store. In 2018, when the fourth cabin was installed, Henderson quit his full-time job as a city administrator.
“Golden Cabin” is frequently booked. She estimates that about half of her guests are cyclists. The rest are families who come to Windsor for funerals or weddings, itinerant nurses, vendors for the Missouri State Fair, construction workers and people traveling through central Missouri.
“I put these on people who think about bikes,” Henderson said. “…I never imagined how many people I would have now for other reasons, because the cabin is here.”
$69 million to zero
This spring, Governor Mike Parson announced a historic investment in the Rock Island Corridor: $69 million to convert another 78-mile section into a trail. He plans to use funds from the federal American Rescue Program Act.
If the trail is completed, it will be the longest rail to trail in the world due to its intersection with the Katy Trail in Windsor.
But Parson’s plan failed to pass the legislative session. Senate cuts Rock Island’s budget to $0.
Lawmakers cited the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ backlog of deferred maintenance at other state parks and concerns from landowners along the corridor as reasons for the funding cuts.
Communities along the way are moving forward despite the lack of legislative support.
Mike McNally leads the volunteers who make up the Missouri Rock Island Trail group. He said lawmakers’ decision to cut funding was frustrating but by no means the end of the road.
“We’ve had challenges before,” McNally said. “We will continue to work hard to help raise funds to build this path.”
The group includes local public officials, business owners, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and anyone who cares about completing the trail. They saw the growth the 240-mile Katy Trail brought to neighboring communities, fueling their motivation. The most recent DNR analysis in 2012 found that the trail brought in more than $18 million to Missouri.
“This could mean a huge economic stimulus for small communities that were put on hold after railroads stopped operating more than 30 years ago,” McNally said.
It’s not just local volunteers looking for funding. Representatives from the DNR and the National Park Service have stepped in to help connect communities with grants to complete their trail sections.
“The National Park Service is proud to be a partner in this and serve Missourians in this way,” Ashley Newsom said. She works for the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
Newsom spent the summer helping interested communities along the way meet, identify funding and design leads. Building parts of the trail was a great way to build momentum for the project, she said.
Ultimately, every part of the trail needs to be connected. But Newsom said the case-by-case approach showed promise.
“It’s an important part of getting grassroots support to show the county or state, like, hey, we’ve grown it in all of our towns. Now we just need it to connect those areas,” Newsom said.
Potential to revitalize rural communities
Kelly Thompson describes her used book collection at her Windsor city centre store.
“I’m a big fan of classics. I don’t think you can always please everyone when they come in and get books,” Thompson said, “but if you have classics, there’s something in common.”
Thompson moved to Windsor two years ago. A year later, her husband Donawan followed suit. Native to Southern California, they have lived and worked in Salt County, Nevada and Missouri.
“We are Missourians at heart,” Donawan Thompson said.
The Thompsons opened their new store, The Pour Poet, last month. They sell coffee, tea, pastries, old books and antiques. Kelly Thompson explains the eclectic mix.
“All of these are my passions. Everything I have here is my passion.”
The Thompsons have purchased a number of properties in Windsor and they plan to renovate and restore all of them. Some properties had been vacant for so long that they found newspapers from the 1940s and 50s everywhere.
Donavan Thompson works in construction and does all the renovations. Many people wonder: why?
“Everyone told me it was abandoned and needed to be demolished,” he said.
A few months ago, the back corner of a building collapsed. Thompson took it in stride. He cleaned it up and built a new foundation and walls.
“I’m going to fight to save it.”
Kelly Thompson said the trail was a big factor in their decision to relocate and open a small business in Windsor. She discovered a wealth of information about the trail while researching the area.
“The only place they met was Windsor, Missouri,” Kelly Thompson said. “That’s ding, ding, ding, ding. You won there.”
The Thompsons plan to build a small hotel, a restoration shop and office space for the remaining property.
“There’s a lot of planning. It’s going to take some time,” Kelly Thompson said, “but we’re not going anywhere.”
As the Amish carriage rolls down the street outside The Pour Poet’s front window, the Thompsons explain how they fell in love with the people and characters of Windsor, and they know others will too. They believed that the expansion of the Rock Island Trail could breathe life into other small towns along the route.
“There’s so much heart in this town. There’s a lot of pride. There’s a lot of history,” Kelly Thompson said. “Honestly, it’s really about bringing it back.”
The existing Rock Island Trail meets and stops at a paved road behind Windsor City Park. Across the road is a former rail corridor so overgrown with shrubs and weeds that you can barely see the first dozen feet.
Henderson is keen that the trail is the next chapter in the town of Rock Island. With trains out of the way for 40 years and no access to the interstate, reusing the corridor in this way is Windsor’s best bet.
“We’re not going to have big industry anymore, so small towns have to think outside the box,” Henderson said.
Henderson and other trail advocates maintain that trails improve the quality of life not only for travelers but also for the residents of the small town they split in two. Henderson can justify the need for accommodation and believes the intersecting trails will attract more amenities to Windsor.
“I mean it’s just a huge opportunity because we’re at a crossroads,” Henderson said.
Henderson’s trail advocacy led her to become vice president of the Missouri Rock Island Trail Group. She said small towns would not go extinct because they were “places where family and friends return”.
After witnessing the success of the Katy Trail firsthand, Henderson hopes there will be more to come.
“I’ve watched the trail for so long and know what it can do for small towns.”
Copyright 2022 KBIA. To view more information, visit KBIA.
window.fbAsyncInit = function() FB.init(
appId : '2446161798822154',
xfbml : true, version : 'v2.9' ); ;
(function(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s);
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js";
(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));