By DIANA PENNER
The Indianapolis Star
Indiana trails can lead Hoosiers past familiar urban landmarks, through bucolic country scenery, over rivers, under highways — and even, with a little imagination, to Neptune.
And stretches of trails designed for walking, hiking, biking, motor-crossing and horseback riding are increasingly within reach of more Hoosiers.
As winter gives way to spring, the demand is up for such spaces and so is the supply, said Steve Morris, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ division of outdoor recreation. Since 2006, Morris said, trail miles in Indiana have more than doubled to about 3,200, including towns, cities, counties, state property and private trails open to the public.
And the state has about reached a goal set in 2009 to put most Hoosiers within 7.5 miles of a trail. Part of the motivation was to provide a basic quality-of-life amenity, but also to offer a public health option to counter the state’s obesity rate. Last year, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report put Indiana in 39th place, with an obesity rate of 31.6 percent compared to the national average of 28.9 percent. That’s up from 2002, when 24.1 percent of the state’s citizens were considered obese.
The DNR has reset that goal: By 2016, it wants Hoosiers to have a trail within 5 miles of where they live, The Indianapolis Star reported.
In Hoosier communities small and large, trails across the state are growing longer and more inviting as local officials and private organizations work to meet the demand.
Locally, the Ohio River Greenway is part of that pedestrian and bicycle pathway growth.
Usage of the Ohio River Greenway continues to grow as more connections along the bicycle and pedestrian path are opened, Project Coordinator Shauna Graf said.
"I can definitely say that having 3.5 miles of trail gets people out there and using it," she said.
The Greenway has been boosted recently with construction in Jeffersonville bringing connectivity from the Big Four Bridge to Louisville.
Jeffersonville Planning and Zoning Director Shane Corbin said part of the importance of the Greenway is it already provides a major link from Jeffersonville, through Clarksville, to New Albany.
“What Jeffersonville’s trying to do...is create a regional network of opportunities for people to get out and bike and run,” he said.
Jeffersonville has already received a $43,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Health to develop a bicycle and pedestrian masterplan. The city will contribute $7,000 in matching money for the grant — of which $5,000 was secured from the Pioneering Healthy Communities Task Force.
The goal is to improve accessibility throughout the city, identify points of interest, improve safety and access and ultimately, begin cultivating a bicycle and pedestrian culture in the city. Jeffersonville has targeted those initial efforts for the plan to start at the Big Four Bridge and Ohio River Greenway, and then to radiate out into the city.
Once the Big Four pedestrian and bicycle bridge is complete, which is expected at the end of August, another piece of that connectivity will be realized. New Albany will effectively be connected to Louisville through bicycle and pedestrian paths.
But, the hope for regional transportation planners is that pedestrian and bicycle access will be granted for the K & I railroad bridge to provide a more direct connection between New Albany and Louisville.
“The K & I would be a critical piece to that loop,” Corbin said.
With a bicycle and pedestrian loop, using the Greenway, he said the region could use it to attract races and events, as well as being an incentive to companies that may look at locating in the region.
For Jeffersonville, most of its Greenway is already developed, Corbin said.
“If we were going to expand it, we would look to do that after the Big Four is opened,” he said.
The path ends near Jeffboat on Market Street in Jeffersonville. Planners are working to develop a separate path through Jeffersonville’s Restaurant Row along Riverside Drive. Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists are forced onto the street at Restaurant Row.
Graf said that is one of the main focuses of the Ohio River Greenway Commission, is to join the path between Jeffersonville and Clarksville near the Interstate 65 interchange and Kingfish restaurant.
The lack of vehicle traffic is one of the reasons the Greenway is appealing to families, she continued.
“I can't tell you how many times I’ve seen people down there teaching their kids how to ride a bike,” Graf said. “It’s the one place you can go and not have to worry about traffic.”
At the state level, Graf is hopeful Indiana will fund more initiatives for walking trails and multi-use paths including bicycle lanes.
Elsewhere in Indiana, in Indianapolis metro, the newest sections of trails are linking to the National Road Heritage Trail, launched in 2004, and planned to be the state’s first cross-state, multi-use trail. Eventually, it is to stretch 150 miles from Terre Haute to Richmond along the former Pennsylvania and Vandalia rail lines.
On the west side of the metro area, a four-mile stretch of the Vandalia Trail — part of the National Road Heritage Trail — was finished late last year. Greg Midgley, president of the National Road Heritage Trail, said that new section runs from Coatesville in Hendricks County to Fillmore in Putnam County and is best suited for walking and mountain biking over natural trail and “pack stone” through woodsy, rustic terrain. But the stretch also connects to paved sections.
On the metro area’s Eastside, Cumberland has been adding to the Pennsy Trail, which also is part of the National Road Heritage Trail. Cumberland town manager Mark Reynold said work is planned this year on a section that is to include parking, landscaping and signage, with work to begin in July or August and be completed by November.
The Pennsy Trail includes about one mile in Marion County and two miles in Hancock County. It also features the kind of amenity that draws nearby residents and school field trips from throughout the area: the solar system.
Stations along the trail are placed proportionate to the sun and the planets — the “sun” is at German Church Road in Marion County and Neptune is at about County Road 600 West in Hancock County.
“People are really using the stations as reference points,” Reynolds said. “They’ll say, ‘I’ll meet you at Jupiter.”’
Within Marion County, three projects are either under way or are to begin soon and are expected to be open to the public by 2014:
• A .8-mile section of Fall Creek Trail on the northeast side will connect Skiles Test Park to Fort Harrison State Park, with a budget of $1.3 million.
• A 2.1-mile extension of the South White River Trail, from about the Indianapolis Zoo, under Washington Street and south to Raymond Street, for $3 million.
• A 1.4-mile new portion of the Fall Creek Trail, from the Monon Trail just south of the Indiana State Fairgrounds to Central Avenue, a $1.6 million project.
Those trail sections are collaborations of the city’s Department of Public Works and Indy Parks and are part of an ongoing effort to connect the entire city. In Indianapolis, that “connectivity” includes marked bike lanes on city streets, allowing for functional, commuter traffic as well as extending recreational options.
Keith Laughlin, president of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, said Indiana is among the Midwestern states making progress in a growing trails movement. In 1986, when the conservancy was founded, there were about 450 miles, nationwide, of trails converted from former railway lines. Today, there are about 21,000 miles, he said.
By the conservancy’s standards and a still-incomplete survey of existing trails, about 42.2 percent of Americans live within three miles of a multi-use trail, he said. Indiana is at about 39 percent, which is near the percentages of Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.
At 74 percent, Muncie is the top municipality among Hoosier cities, he said, with residents living within the three-mile range.
Indiana’s efforts have been noticed, Laughlin said.
“We see Indiana as one of the leading states for trail-building.”
Easy access to a trail is a key factor for Brandon Barrett when he decides where to live, and his work as a contractor in aerospace electronics. When he moved to Indianapolis in September, he’d hoped for a Downtown location but didn’t like the trail options for fitness walking and roller blading, so he opted for a Broad Ripple apartment next to the Monon Trail.
That stretch of the trail is a bit rough for roller blading, the 31-year-old said, but he walks for about an hour almost every day after work, he said early one evening last week.
“I do it for health reasons,” he said, “but I really enjoy it, too.”
Caleb Hart, a 25-year-old teacher at Cardinal Ritter High School, grew up in the Broad Ripple area — before the Monon existed as the paved stretch it is now. Back in those days, Hart said, families and kids could walk more comfortably just around their neighborhoods, and the Monon helps fill that need.
He’s out on the trail for 5- to 10-mile runs, four or five days a week, or hits the trail on his bike and heads up to Carmel, he said. He used to live closer to Fort Harrison State Park and used trails in those areas, too. He said he probably would drive a bit to get to a trail if he didn’t have the Monon nearby.
It generally isn’t difficult to attract people to park-like trails, but Hoosiers appear to need more experience sharing roadways with cars when bike lane striping is added. But the shared paths are important to connecting the city for cyclists, said Donald Colvin, deputy director for planning and design at Indy Parks.
“Definitely for recreational green spaces, the Monons, etcetera ... if you build those, the people will come,” he said. But, “I don’t have the opportunity to build a greenways trail everywhere,” so street bike lanes are key to connectivity.
As the city continues to add walking and cycling trails and paths, it also is updating its 10-year greenways master plan and wants suggestions, concerns and questions from Marion County residents. Nine public meetings were held earlier this year and another series is to be scheduled for the fall, Colvin said.
In addition, the public can get information and offer ideas from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday at re-purposed rail building along the Monon Trail, on the far east side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, north of 38th Street.
So far, comments show safety is the top priority among users, Colvin said, followed by the ability to reach destinations like other neighborhoods, parks, stores, schools and trails.
— Staff Writers Braden Lammers and Daniel Suddeath contributed to this report.