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Huntington County trails taking shape

September 19th, 2015

News Coverage:

Local trails taking shape

Greenways benefit quality of life, economic development

Posted: Saturday, September 19, 2015 8:00 pm
By Megan Greve 

Almost 30 years in the making, trails are starting to take shape in the City of Huntington.

History

Planning for trails has been in the works in Huntington for almost 30 years. In 1987 a committee was formed to plan the best use of the land along the Little River and former Erie Railroad corridor, according to the Huntington Trails and Greenways Master Plan completed in March of 2007.

"Trails have been desired, a part of planning for Huntington for a really long time, they've just never been completed," Jody Davenport, president of the Huntington Area Recreational Trail Association (HARTA), said.

In February the Huntington City Redevelopment Commission got approval from the city to take out up to $7 million in bonds, part of which will help create an almost-seven mile trail system, Huntington Director of Public Works and Engineering Services Anthony Goodnight said.

In addition to the Lime City Trail at The Historic Forks of the Wabash, completed in the late 2000s, there are currently trails from Elmwood Park to Frederick Street as well as a trail at Evergreen Park, Goodnight said.

By the end of 2016 construction should be complete on a trail that connects the Elmwood Park trail to the former Erie Railroad bridge then goes north through Yeoman Park and connects near Forest Glen Park at Huntington University, Goodnight said. There will also be a trail connecting Yeoman park to Old U.S. 24 that should travel down to Lake Clare.

"Next year is going to be a big year for trails," Goodnight added.

In addition, around 2017 the city plans to connect the trail from Elmwood Park to the Forks of the Wabash, making the total amount of connected trails almost nine miles.

Economic development

Many officials see trails as an opportunity for economic development. Huntington County Economic Development Executive Director Mark Wickersham said that while building trails don't create many jobs, they offer incentives to current and prospective businesses.

Wickersham said businesses look for a community where they can be profitable.

"At some point workforce is absolutely in the top tier of the dynamics (they consider) and the more encouraged people are to live here, the more encouraged they are to live healthy lifestyles here the more encouraged employers will be to either locate, stay or grow here," he said.

Goodnight said quality-of-life pieces, such as trails, play a part in business decisions.

"When employers come to the city one of their biggest concerns is, what is the quality of life for their employees, and quality of life in our opinion is good parks, good schools, recreational opportunities for their employees, nice looking city properties and things like that. ... (Businesses) can certainly pick (locations based) on what amenities that city had for their employees so it is a part of the economic development tool. It can play a big part or it can play a small part but it's always a part," he said.

Davenport said this piece is especially important to millennials, those age 38 to 23.

"Statistics do show...the millennials group, they want to make their homes and come to communities and bring business to communities where there are these kinds of amenities and companies are looking to bring business to communities where their employees actually want to live," she said.

Wickersham said there are several businesses at Riverfork Industrial Park who are interested in connecting to the trail system in order to offer their employees recreational opportunities as well as an alternative means of getting to work.

Fetters said such a connection is planned, adding "once we complete the section from Elmwood Park out to the Forks of the Wabash we're already beginning to look at design plans to get a spur that would go across the Wabash River over to Riverfork Industrial Park," he said.

Trails can also create economic development through local business and tourism spending.

Fetters said one of the first of the trail areas to be built will connect the former Erie Railroad bridge to Jefferson Street and the downtown. He said bids for this project, as well as renovations to the downtown hub at the Schenkel Station located just off Jefferson Street, will be coming in the next few months. He said he anticipates some work to be done this winter with the project completed by the end of next year.

Quality of life

Connectivity of neighborhoods, schools, parks, cultural sites, workplaces and other destinations is one of the goals of the Trails and Greenways Master Plan, as is improved transportation, recreation and health and fitness.

"It's really important for the mission of trails to connect your community hotspots - the schools, the parks, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club. ... We want to connect communities, if you will. If you can get from the east side, so let's say Yeoman Park, to Memorial Park, on the west part of the town, or Elmwood Park, or you can get from the high school to the Boys and Girls Club, how do we make that easy?" Seth Kimmel, HARTA board member and head of the fundraising committee, said.

In addition, local trails are expected to contain pieces on the history of Huntington as well as connections to nature. One of the goals of HARTA is to provide amenities such as benches, trash cans, picnic tables and informational signage to enhance the trails.

HARTA secured a matching Lilly Foundation grant to build a large gazebo and picnic area to honor the Erie Railroad heritage of Huntington, Davenport said. The gazebo will be built near the former Erie Railroad bridge.

HARTA must have $20,000 secured for its matching part of the grant by Nov. 1, she said.

Overall, Fetters said trails are something people have valued for a long time.

"It has been something for the last almost 30 years that citizens of our community have wanted," he said. "(They offer) alternative means of transportation, recreational opportunities for people of all ages and abilities (and) connectivity of neighborhoods, historic downtown, places of interest, our parks, our schools, the university."

Goodnight agreed.

"Trails are an economic development tool, they are good for everyone, it gets people connected with nature and we're looking forward to providing our citizens with trails," he said.

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