Local officials are already looking ahead to a burst in business and investment likely to come from a hiking-and-biking trail Jackson County hopes to open next year – and from a widening network of trails in the years ahead.

“We know there’s tremendous economic development benefits,” Independence Assistant City Manager Mark Randall said Wednesday evening at an open house on plans for the Rock Island corridor trail.

The county is holding a series of open houses to answer questions and hear comments on plans for a 17.7-mile trail, on an unused rail line, from near Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums in Kansas City southeast through downtown Raytown and one to southern Lee’s Summit. Then the plan is to connect with the Katy Trail.

Although the immediate benefits would flow to those cities, Randall said Independence has a role in this conversation. He said the city could connect some of its trails to the new one near the stadium

“They could feed into it, and it would be a tremendous thing,” he said.

The county is in the midst of three open houses. The last one is from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. next Wednesday at the Raytown Wellness Center, 10301 E. Missouri 350.

“Mostly it is people who are excited to hear about their amenities,” said Calvin Williford, executive director of the county’s Rock Island Rail Corridor Authority.

On one poster, people could put up sticky dots to indicate what they want to see along the trail. Mile markers, good lighting and shelters with restrooms and trash cans were popular. Art didn’t get many votes.

Williford said an environmental review should be wrapped up soon and that the county expects to let a construction bid in September so work can start this fall.

“We would like to see this in public use as soon as possible, recognizing that there are some variables that we cannot control,” Williford said.

At some point in the future, officials would like to use the same corridor for a public-transit option such as commuter rail service. But there’s no stated timeline for that, as funding hasn’t been identified.

“It’s going to be much longer, just because the costs are significant,” said Brien Starner, senior manager of economic development for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, the county’s partner in buying the old railroad tracks.

But the 17.7 mile bike trail alone, he said, will create economic opportunities.

“That’s a lot of frontage,” he said.

Starner pointed out that a significant amount of private investment has already been announced – conservatively $1.5 billion, he said – within three or four miles of the trail corridor. Not much of is related to the corridor, so far, but it presents opportunities, particularly for those selling homes to people looking for nice amenities such as trails.

“Where are these people going to live who are going to take these jobs?” Starner said.

Williford outlined some of the same themes and stressed the need to connect the new trail one the state opened three months ago – described as an extension of the Katy – from Windsor, Missouri, north to Pleasant Hill.

“We really do have the generational opportunity to make a connection,” he said.