With a band, a color guard and speeches, the City of Huntington ceremonially broke ground Friday, Oct. 21, for a trail along the Little River on the city’s southeast side.
The trail has greater significance than its three-quarters-of-a-mile length might indicate. It’s one link in a trail that will stretch across the city from west to east, from the Forks of the Wabash Historic Park to the PAL Club, Mayor Brooks Fetters said, and the Little River Trail will eventually become part of a trail connecting Fort Wayne and Wabash.
From there, it will make up part of an 11-county trail network characterized by Jim Schellinger, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp-oration, as “a little Appalachian Trail.”
“This trail is one of those spider webs that’s going to connect all of our region,” said Michael Galbraith, director of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Road to One Million.
Galbraith heads an effort to grow northeast Indiana’s population to 1 million and says the trail network is one of the amenities that will draw new residents and businesses to this region.
The Road to One Million effort was awarded a $42 million state grant through Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative, with $263,390 of that going to the City of Huntington to pay for a portion of the $1.05 million trail project.
Trails play a part in making the region’s cities “cool places to live, work and play,” Schellinger said. They inspire those considering a move into the region to think,“This is an incredible place to live,” Galbraith added.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Erie Rail Trail bridge on Riverside Drive, just east of Briant Street. This section of trail will run from the bridge along the Little River on Riverside Drive, then on Jefferson and West State streets to Schenkel Station. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, weather permitting.
The area around the Erie Rail Trail Bridge is being developed as Erie Heritage Park, a name recognizing the roots of a city where four railroads once operated, Fetters said. The Erie Band — which started as a railroad band and continues in its 101st year as a community band — opened and closed the ceremony, where the attendees included a small dog wearing an old Erie Railroad shop rag fashioned into a coat. Erie the dog was accompanied by his owners, former Erie Railroad employee Jim Dinius and his wife Rita.
Erie Heritage Park will include a gazebo built by the Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association (HARTA), an organization founded in 2014 by a group of walking, running and bicycling enthusiasts. HARTA’s mission, member Jim Lewis explained, is to promote the development of trails and greenways.
“We think today is a little bit sweeter than a normal great day,” Lewis said.
HARTA’s work has included pursuing grants, fund-raisers and donations to fund construction of the gazebo. One major contribution came from the Heritage of Huntington Foundation.
Rev. James Jones, representing the foundation and the Heritage Communities board of trustees, said he learned about the project from a golfing partner. The talk on the course led to the donation, he said.
The Erie Rail Trail Bridge will allow the development of a north-south trail in Huntington, Fetters said, noting that trail is now being designed and should be completed in the spring of 2017.
Another trail on tap will extend a mile along Archbishop Noll Parkway.
The trail development is one example of different organizations working together for the betterment of a community, said Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County Economic Development.