Huntington Area Recreational Trails Assn. setting off down path

This map displays completed and yet-to-be completed trails in Huntington. Approximately seven miles of trails will be built next year and the Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association, HARTA, is leading the charge for even more trails to be built beyond that.
This map displays completed and yet-to-be completed trails in Huntington. Approximately seven miles of trails will be built next year and the Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association, HARTA, is leading the charge for even more trails to be built beyond that. Graphic provided.

Originally published Sept. 28, 2015.

The Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association is setting off down a figurative path it hopes will lead to the creation of literal ones.

The organization – HARTA for short – is a nonprofit group formed last year with a mandate to design, develop, construct and maintain public trails and greenways in the Huntington area. In order to fulfill that mandate, HARTA pursues funding and engages in fund-raising.

There are currently four trails in Huntington: The Lime City Trail, Evergreen Trail, Little River Trail Section 3 and soon-to-be-completed 4. Also, the Erie Railroad Bridge has been refurbished for trail traffic and the Wabash Railroad Depot has been donated to Huntington by Jon and Shelly Schenkel for eventual use as the main hub for a local trail network.

A trail network has been on Huntington’s wish list for 20 years, says Jody Davenport, HARTA’s president. When the Huntington Redevelopment Com- mission and the Huntington City Council passed a public bond issue this past February, it represented a big step toward making it a reality.

“(The bond) will pay to complete seven miles, approximately, of trails by the end of next year,” states Seth Kimmel, HARTA’s fund-raising campaign manager.

Now that the city has the ball rolling, “… (HARTA is) the impetus behind kind of taking it over,” notes Davenport.

To that end, the organization has developed a capital campaign geared toward raising $200,000 a year over the next five, giving HARTA $1 million to work with by the campaign’s conclusion.

“Our goal, really, with this capital campaign is to make those existing trails nice through amenities, to establish a maintenance fund to make sure that the trails are properly cared for and then to build further trail,” explains Kimmel. “We don’t want to stop at seven miles. We want to emulate something like Fort Wayne’s done, maybe on a smaller scale, but something like that.”

Fort Wayne boasts an extensive network of trails that covers much of Allen County.

HARTA’s campaign consists of seven gifting levels, ranging from $75 to $100,000. Levels six through one carry perks, such as sponsorship of a bike rack or tree all the way up to trail naming rights.

Sponsorship on the HARTA iPhone app, H-TAP, which stands for “Huntington Trails App Project,” is a perk on all six levels. Reusser Design, in Roanoke, designed the app for HARTA, with Our Sunday Visitor donating the money for its creation. Davenport has high hopes for it.

“What we are hoping to do is use that as a perpetual fund-raising effort where if somebody uses that app, it’ll log the miles, it will go to a central database and then we’re hoping to pick up some corporate sponsors that will say, ‘OK, for every mile that is recorded and logged into our database, we will donate a quarter to HARTA,’” she says.

HARTA has also started holding fund-raising events. Its first was a tasting at The Berg Ale Haus this past spring while the most recent was a two-night event at the Huntington Applebee’s where a portion of every purchase was donated to HARTA. The next event on the organization’s calendar is the Bow Wow Walk, set for Oct. 31 at Yeoman Park, which Davenport considers an informational event as much as a fund-raiser.

The most pressing need for HARTA at the moment, though, is funds to match a grant it received from the Lilly Foundation. The grant, which totals $30,000 and requires HARTA to raise $20,000 by November, would pay for a pavilion near the Erie Rail Trail Bridge. In addition to serving as a rest stop for trail users and a congregation point for community members, Davenport says such an amenity would also honor the history of the Erie Railroad in Huntington.

HARTA is close to raising enough funds for the grant, says Davenport. To help the organization get the rest of the way there, she invites Erie Railroad retirees and families of retirees to donate to the cause. Those wishing to make a donation, she notes, should make checks payable to the Huntington County Community Foundation.

One of the reasons Davenport is so passionate about trails in Huntington is because of the economic impact they’ve been shown to have in other communities.

“Statistics do show that today’s employable young person, the millennial age group, they want to make their homes and come to communities and bring business to communities where there are these kinds of amenities,” she begins. “Companies are looking to bring business to communities where their employees actually want to live, where there are these nice amenities.

“So, there’s a lot of crossover benefits here… a lot of people can say, ‘Why are we focusing on trails? We should be focusing on bringing business.’ But trails (are) a piece. It’s just another amenity that we can offer to those potential industries to just make Huntington a better place so that their employees will want to live here.”
Trails will also make the experience of living in Huntington that much better for the people already here, says Kimmel.

“From my standpoint, it’s just something nice for Huntington,” he says. “Huntington hasn’t had a quality of life piece come into play for a long time and I think it’s time for that to happen. You know, me being a Huntington guy, I see the opportunity to take my daughter, take my dogs on the trail. If my daughter has a biology collection, we can pull leaves off the trees or we can teach her about the history of Huntington because there’s a historical piece in the signage that’ll be on the trails.

“So, there’s just a lot of things that are family benefits that go along with trails, too. So, that’s an important piece for me, being a guy who was born and raised here and is going to continue to raise his family here.”

To contact HARTA, email harta.gotrails@gmail.com. More information about the organization can be found on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/harta.gotrails. To make a donation, contact Kimmel at 388-9983.