Officials update residents on Wabash River Trail
By Joseph Slacian | The Paper of Wabash County
The Lagro portion of the Wabash River Trail could be dedicated in early June.
Meanwhile, work on the Wabash to Lagro portion of the trail – specifically, a portion near the Paradise Spring Historic Park – could begin later this year.
Those were the main messages Wednesday, March 28, during a public meeting of the Wabash River Trail committee. The meeting, the second of two public meetings, was ordered by the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority so the WRT committee would qualify for more than $900,000 for the project.
Committee chair Amy Ford, along with Andrew Wolf of CrossRoad Engineers and Dawn Kroh of Green3, discussed the trail. In addition, Beth Gillespie, president of the Lagro Canal Foundation, and Richard Monce, Lagro Town Council president, also spoke about revitalization projects in Lagro brought about by the efforts WRT and the Foundation.
After those discussions, which lasted about 20 minutes, the remainder of the 75 minute meeting involved, at times heated, question and answers.
The Lagro portion of the trail needs to have the asphalt top coat placed on it, as well as pavement markings put on it, Wolf told the audience of about 100 at the Lagro Community Building.
In addition, grass and ground cover needs to be installed by the new pavilion, as well as between the trail and private property access roads along the trail fencing, he said.
Trail signs and bollards, which prevent vehicles from driving on the trail, must be installed, as does concrete decking on the bridge, he continued. Finally, the east end of the trail must be paved to the bridge.
“I would expect the time frame for that to occur, maybe within the next couple of months,” Wolf said.
Ford said the anticipated dedication is June 1, which is National Trail Day.
Kroh noted that the Wabash to Lagro section, known as Phase 1B, is broken into two parts – the area around Paradise Spring and the rest of the section between Wabash and Lagro.
The section by Paradise Spring is the first priority of that phase.
“Those of you who are familiar with Paradise Spring park know that there’s a trail in there now, and if you go under the existing railroad bridge you can come out on this existing access drive, and people are using that as a trail already.” She said permits for that section are in place, and negotiations with the railroad are in place.
The Lagro to Wabash section, she noted, doesn’t go through the heart of the community as the Lagro section did.
“Our top priority and our top commitment is to work with willing property owners,” Kroh said. “WRT has worked long and hard with all the property owners along the Phase 1B section. They are in final negotiations with the property owners so that the final route can move forward.
“All systems at this point look as if they’re ready to go.”
Once the land is acquired, permitting for the remainder of Phase 1B can begin, Kroh said.
Following the meeting, Kroh told The Paper of Wabash County that there are about a dozen landowners in the Wabash to Lagro phase of the project. Of those, the majority have agreed to let the trail go through the land, she said.
She also reiterated that permits are in place for the Paradise Spring portion of the project.
“We already have the Paradise Spring connector piece,” Kroh said. “All permits and approvals are in place already for that. We are still working and won’t begin construction until we have all the permits in place.”
The group also must coordinate with Duke Energy for easement rights.
WRT, in the Lagro section, began working on the site without proper permits and easement rights.
Mayor Scott Long on Friday told The Paper that the city will not permit work on the site without all the proper paperwork in place.
“The Board of Works told the group when they appeared before us before that we wouldn’t grant approval until all permits from INDNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and any other regulatory agencies were approved,” he said. “Permission also must be obtained from Duke Energy to build in the utility easement.
“I reiterated this to Amy Ford in a recent e-mail and instructed her to have everything together when they are ready to appear before the Board of Works for permission. The group is well aware that the city will not grant permission without this all being in place.”
Long noted that he has been working with WRT in negotiations with the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
“I am working with the group to obtain permission from Norfolk Southern Railroad to construct the trail under the trestle that crosses the Wabash River in a current easement the City of Wabash holds,” he said. “This process is taking longer than I anticipated, but multiple e-mails this week have us making headway.
“The City of Wabash is looking forward to this extension of our Riverwalk to expand opportunities for our citizens who utilize our trail system currently. With this being one of the projects selected for Regional Cities funding through the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority, this is not only a benefit to Wabash and Wabash County residents, but residents throughout Northeast Indiana.”
During the question and answer session, many of the same concerns brought up in the WRT’s first meeting in 2017 were broached again. Those include safety along the trail, the ability of property owners to use firearms near the trail and the dropping of trash by trail users.
Kroh told those concerned that law enforcement must be involved in the matter, especially when it comes to enforcing codes against illegal use of the trail or dumping of trash.
“It’s no different than a road,” she later told The Paper. “We all drive our cars on the road, but the people that build the roads don’t give you a ticket if you’re speeding. It’s a similar thing for trails. The people that build the trails aren’t the people that come out and tell you you aren’t following the rules.
“That’s how we would work with law enforcement.”