EDITORIAL: Celebrate rails-to-trails, then go one better

Apr. 25—A conversation we had a couple of years ago seems apropos to an event this weekend.

Saturday is Founder's Day for Missouri's Katy Trail, to "commemorate the anniversary of the trail's opening in 1990," according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Among those at the event will be representatives of Edward Jones. Much of the funding for the 240-mile rail-to-trail project came from Edward D. "Ted" Jones and his wife, Pat. Volunteers will hold events at several locations along the trail to remove invasive species, do some clean up and maintenance, plant trees, and more.

More than that, the fourth Sunday in April is always "Celebrate Trails Day," for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, with hundreds of events across the country.

A couple of years ago we spoke with Marianne Fowler, then a senior strategist for the Rails to Trails Conservancy. She told us just what a trailbreaker the Katy became after its first section opened near Rocheport.

"Without the Katy Trail there would have been no national rail-trail movement," she said.

She explained that the Katy was the first major rail-banked trail in the Midwest. Then she added: "It became a star."

The romance of riding along the Missouri River, of crossing the state on a weeklong vacation, drew people to the Midwest from all over the country who then took back to their communities and their home states a desire for something similar.

"It was our model," she told me. "Think of all the people who came to ride and brought the idea back home with them."

"If we had not had the Katy, it would have been a bicoastal movement," she said of the rails-to-trails effort.

Saturday will be a good day to get out on trails. But go one better. "Celebrate Trails Day" by joining the local group, the Joplin Trails Coalition.

The coalition owns and manages the 16-mile Ruby Jack Trail, from Carthage to the Kansas line, and works with the cities of Joplin and Webb City on the 3.5-mile Frisco Greenway, which stretches from near downtown Joplin to near downtown Webb City. Both are former railroad lines converted to trails for walking, running and cycling.

The group has a long-term goal of finishing the last 2 miles of the 16-mile Ruby Jack Trail, and connecting it to the 3.5-mile Frisco Greenway. When connected, a person will be able to walk, run or bike between the five largest communities in the county — Joplin, Webb City, Carthage, Carl Junction and Oronogo.

Anyone wishing to join JTC or renew their membership may submit payments at www.joplintrailscoalition.org/contribute.

Saturday is a good day to support the local and state rail-to-trail initiatives.