For Indiana newcomer Christy Grannan, the Regional Trail Network has been a welcome feature to life in and around Fort Wayne. The multi-use Network is expanding and recently paved its 100th mile, with an additional seven miles to be added by the end of 2017.
“We moved here a year and a half ago and use the biking and walking trails often. I’m amazed at how well-maintained and safe they are. The trails offer a wonderful view of the rivers and have a nice mix of urban and rural scenery,” says Grannan, who explores the trails with her husband and their dog in a canine friendly basket.
For over four decades the trails in and around Fort Wayne and Allen County have provided a place to get out and get active. They see nearly 50,000 users a month during the summer and last year an estimated 568,000 residents and visitors walked or rode along the paths.
According to Frank Suárez and Dawn Ritchie of the City of Fort Wayne this figure is likely an undercount as many users go one-way on the trails. There are 14 locations which track people via an infrared system.
“Currently, 110,000 residents of Allen County are connected to within one-quarter mile of the trail,” says Suárez, explaining various sections such as Moser Park in New Haven to West Hamilton Road (nearly 23 miles one-way), Moser Park to Eagle Marsh, and Shoaff Park to Tillman Park, both 16 miles.
The original 25-mile long Rivergreenway trail links Fort Wayne and New Haven and runs along the riverbanks. Fifteen city parks are accessible from this section and, according to Suárez, its downtown route is particularly popular with IPFW students and staff. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2009.
City Greenways and Trails Manager Dawn Ritchie explains that Fort Wayne maintains 75 miles within the City limits and 80 miles overall in the current network. It is the most extensive trail system of its kind in Indiana and, in the Midwest, as far as she knows, only the community of Dayton, Ohio has more trail miles.
Ritchie says that Fort Wayne is rather unique in respect to the handling of its trails, which, since 2005, have been under the Public Works Division, rather than Recreation and Transportation, when it was evident that more residents were using them for active transportation.
Over the years Ritchie has seen a definite shift in mobility and an increase in tourism inquiries. “I often get visitor calls about the trails,” she says.
Trail financing comes from numerous avenues, such as public donations, bike coalitions and running clubs at the grassroots level to organizations like Indiana Trails and the Little River Wetlands Project, and advocacy group Fort Wayne Trails Inc., a community partner in the development of trails in Allen County. Says Suárez, “Funding for the trails from local, state and federal levels has raised over $6 million in amalgamated funds over the last forty years.”
Original trail advocacy group the Greenway Consortium and later, in the early 2000s, Northwest Allen Trails and Aboite New Trails, were key players in increasing public awareness, raising matched funds and working with local and State governments.
Current projects include Bass Road Trail (Hadley Road to Clifty Parkway), the expansion of The Pufferbelly Trail near Wallen Road, partially funded by the Regional Cities Initiative/Regional Development Authority, and the construction of bike lanes, such as those on Illinois and Maysville roads. (The City of Fort Wayne introduced bike lanes in 2009.) The City is also collaborating with IPFW students to produce an App to report trail conditions and maintenance.
“The overall goal is to connect with destinations, schools, parks and other towns, and other towns and recreational groups now want to connect to Fort Wayne too,” Ritchie says.
Local businesses have embraced the trails, whether by incorporating bike garages in parking areas or promoting the network themselves. Suárez mentioned the Holiday Inn near the Rivergreenway, where guests can rent bikes on a half- or full-day basis, helmet and lock included.
Bike shop owner Charles Syndram says the trail network “is vital for the area for cycling” and adds that 80% of his clients just want to “tour around and ride their bike on the trails”. He sees a lot of families in his store who use the Rivergreenway, as do he and his wife Micki. “We hit the trails or Greenway or bike lanes and do various loops, like Shoaff Park and back.” The paved trails have positively affected store revenue, with Syndram explaining that hybrid and comfort hybrid bikes were their hottest sales last year. “They are more upright and have a narrower tire [than a mountain bike].” When speaking of the Trail Network organizers Syndram says that he “cannot thank them enough”.
It’s about building a network, from Greenway Ranger volunteers and local churches who maintain and service the trails, to exercise classes and charitable fun runs, bird watching, historical walks and astronomy outings. Starting in May each summer are the Trek the Trails bike rides and hikes, a popular networking event, says Suárez, and an opportunity to utilize and discover the trails and a new part of the city.
The existence of the Regional Trail Network has enhanced the life of many Fort Wayne residents. Says Suárez, “It has grown beyond enthusiasm. The excitement from trail groups has made it a vision.”
In celebration of the 100 mile achievement, trail organizers have invited the public to share memories and photos of their experiences by using the social media hashtag #fwtrails100.
Marney Carmichael is a columnist who writes about recreation and leisure in Northeast Indiana. She is a Canadian writer and journalist and has lived and worked in her native homeland, the US, Australia, Scotland, Egypt and France. She moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2017 with her French-Algerian husband, two global kids and a duo of adopted Cairo cats.
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