By BRANDY RICHMOND
Connecting Indiana communities with trails formerly used as railway lines may serve to improve the health of residents and enhance tourism in Clay County.
Greg Midgley, President of National Road Heritage Trail, Inc. and part of the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, recently presented the Clay County Commissioners with the organization's plan that would convert former rail lines to trails for walking, hiking, biking and horseback riding, closely following the historic National Road. Midgley was seeking the Commissioners' support of the plan, which would not place the county under any financial obligation, as part of the preliminary research for grant funding applications. By the end of 2005, the group plans to complete a master plan for the proposed National Road Heritage Trail (NRHT).
For approximately two years, volunteers from the non-profit organization have been researching the 150-mile greenway trail to be used for non-motorized travel roughly following the former Pennsylvania, Vandalia and electric interurban railroad corridors and National Road. Several Indiana communities have developed their own local trails, such as the trail in Vigo County and People Pathways in Putnam County. The development organization/steering group has been researching one long trail connecting communities from Terre Haute to Richmond.
Facilitating economic development, providing transportation alternatives, enhancing public health and quality of life as well as enabling a context for historic preservation are several incentives for establishing the continuous trailway, Midgley explained. With 30 communities along the path, many of them three to five miles apart, and the association with the National Road, the project can be used as a marketing tool for visitors from outside Indiana interested in exploring the area. Once connected within the state, there is also potential for the NRHT to extend into Ohio and Illinois.
While the project is being handled by volunteers at this time, those involved would like to see the state take ownership of the project. Midgley said only two of the communities have connection plans, and the connections won't happen organically. Creating a contiguous path will enhance its value, but in some cases, alternate routes that stray somewhat from the original lines must be created due to private ownership in some areas. Over time, the organization would like to develop support not only for recreational purposes, but in order to educate the public, both Hoosiers and out-of-state visitors, about the historical importance of the former rail lines and National Road.
The group was awarded a state grant last year, but is still short of funding for the $100,000 study it plans to conduct. Eventually, an eight-county document will be available, and will aid volunteers in applications for additional funding. The local section of trail is part of the Clay County Parks Five-Year Master Plan.
Coordinating the effort now is important because sections of the corridor are slowly being converted for other uses in areas where the potential for trails is not obvious. Meanwhile, the project complements the goals of the Indiana National Road Association for strengthening preservation, awareness and tourism.
The issue will be on the agenda of the next Commissioners meeting, set for 9 a.m. Monday, May 2. Meetings are open to the public and are conducted in the Commissioners Court at the Clay County Courthouse.