Saturday offered evidence — unambiguous evidence — of the turning of a tide.
More than 100 people showed up when the Joplin Trails Coalition cut the ribbon for a 2.7-mile segment of the Ruby Jack Trail that tied together previously completed sections, making for a 14-mile trail completed from Carthage to Carl Junction. More showed up at JTC's jamboree in Oronogo. The crowd included some county officials, leaders from several area cities and representatives of local chambers.
The message was clear: Area residents want these kinds of assets in their communities.
It was only a decade ago that the Ruby Jack was tied up in a lawsuit because some Missouri property owners were fighting to stop it; today, a good many property owners adjacent to the Ruby Jack have built personal spurs connecting their property to it.
It wasn't that many years ago that the Cherokee County (Kansas) Landowners Association, which opposed extending the Ruby Jack into Kansas, argued that trail groups often lack funding, manpower “and quite frankly motivation” to develop and maintain the trails they control.
The Joplin Trails Coalition put the lie to that nonsense. It is — quite frankly — a motivated can-do and has-done organization.
The landowners group also argued that allowing the trail would result in "diminished value of the ... adjoining property."
Yet we know from study after study, in community after community, that property along trails brings a premium — sometimes as much as 20% — depending on the trail and other factors.
And it wasn't all that long ago that Cherokee County commissioners ruled that the Joplin Trails Coalition would have to post a surety bond of $10,000 per mile to ensure that the trail would be maintained there — a prohibitive move that blocked plans to bring the trail to Columbus. What a bonehead blunder. Elsewhere, communities are fighting and competing to get these trails, just as they fought and competed to be on the railroad more than a century ago.
Restaurants, bike shops, coffee shops and more also want to be along these trails. Trails help revitalize communities and, where they connect to them, downtowns. We know that cities report increases in sales tax revenue after a trail opens — 19% in one case.
They're good for our communities, good for our health, good for our environment.
There is a lot of opportunity in the area — opportunity to add new trails and connect existing trails. It's going to take a lot of support from community leaders, lawmakers and others to go forward with these efforts, but it looks as if a lot of them are getting the message.
Assistance, not resistance — that's the path we should be on.