Cyclists, runners and others now have an alternative and safer way to get from Carthage to Carl Junction.

Work on a 2.5-mile stretch of the Ruby Jack Trail in western Jasper County recently wrapped up. What had been an unimproved stretch of the trail that consisted of loose gravel and railroad rock — much of the route overgrown — now has a surface of compacted limestone gravel similar to the rest of the trail. Growth along that stretch of the trail also was cut back.

"It's a great new section; it's just very impressive," said Braden Horst, president of the Joplin Trails Coalition.

The completed stretch extends from just west of County Road 240, under Missouri Highway 43, to Missouri Highway 171.

Work has been ongoing for years to convert the former rail line into a 16-mile trail across much of northern Jasper County.

The trail extends from Carthage to the Kansas state line, passing through Carl Junction and Oronogo, and over the years, the trail was extended from its eastern terminus, near Carthage Municipal Park, west past Oronogo. A 2-mile section also was finished from the railroad tracks near Missouri Highway 171 through Carl Junction to Route JJ.

The latest work now connects those two stretches, creating a 14-mile stretch of trail. That leaves 2 miles from Route JJ to the Kansas line that needs to be upgraded. Asbell Companies, which is on Missouri Highway 171 north of Carl Junction, submitted a bid of $109,499 for the work. Volunteers had previously helped upgrade several former railroad bridges in the recently completed 2.5-mile stretch.

Among the volunteers were students from PSU's School of Construction who have since graduated. They were honored as the Outstanding Student Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America at the national association's 100th annual convention last year in Denver. The students received the Construction Management Skills Award for the bridge work.

Horst said the JTC manages the 3.5-mile Frisco Greenway, which is owned by the cities of Joplin and Webb City, and owns and manages the 16-mile Ruby Jack. Grants, membership dues and fundraisers help pay for trail upgrades and maintenance. Details about membership, fundraisers and work days can be found at joplintrailscoalition.org.

The group received a grant from the Missouri Recreational Trails Program that paid for 70% of the latest work, with the remaining 30% kicked in locally. The Recreational Trails Program grant administered by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources provides federal funds to develop and maintain public trails. The grants are available to local and state governments, school districts, nonprofit and even for-profit organizations. The Joplin Trails Coalition has previously received two grants, one in 2014 for $44,340 and a second in 2016 for $49,166.

Because the trail group cannot legally cross Kansas City Southern railroad tracks that run along Missouri Highway 171, a 200-foot trail section east of 171 will eventually be used for a parking lot, to be developed later, according to Horst.

Earlier this year, the Joplin Trails Coalition also completed a resurfacing project on a 1-mile stretch of the Ruby Jack from the trailhead next to Leggett & Platt's corporate headquarters (County Road 180) west to Ivy Road.