$90 million Indiana trail program explained

By the year 2020, Indiana wants to put a hiking and biking trail within 5 miles of every Hoosier.

“In 2006, we had a goal of having trails within 7 1/2 miles of every Hoosier. We virtually have met that goal, so we’ve upped it now to having a trail within 5 miles of every Hoosier,” said Amy Marisavljevic with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “And so we’re actually at 96 percent for that goal, which is pretty good, meaning that there’s a trail, whether that’s a bike pedestrian trail or a hiking trail, within 5 miles of 96 percent of Hoosiers. But we’re trying to get that last 4 percent.”

The state plans to hand out $90 million in grants for trail extension projects through the Next Level Trail program. That’s the largest infusion of state funding for trails in state history.

The proceeds will come from the private operator of the Indiana Toll Road in exchange for permission to increase truck tolls by 35 percent.

Perhaps it’s enough money to bring the biking and hiking communities of South Bend and Elkhart together.

“Some people in Elkhart County and St. Joe County have been talking back and forth, saying we have great bike trails in St. Joe County, great bike trails in Elkhart County, it’s just an 11-mile gap between them; how about if we connected? So this provides maybe an opportunity to close the gap,” said Kyle Hannon with the Indiana Bike Trails Task Force. “If you were to connect, so in Elkhart County the Pumpkinvine, this very popular trail also goes all the way into LaGrange County and then St. Joe County, you’re going up in crossing the state line in Niles and hopefully they’re talking one day of going to LaPorte.”

A workshop held Wednesday at Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty drew trail advocates and potential grant applicants from across northern Indiana.

“Well, we do a master plan every five years, and the public shows a lot of interest,” said Mike Metz, executive director with the LaGrange County Park Department. “That seems to be one of their No. 1 wants, is trail development.”

“Obviously, there's a health and wellness benefit for trails, there's an alternative transportation benefit. Making people more mobile in their communities. There's an economic benefit for the community, a lot of businesses go along trails and support trails,” Marisavljevic said.