Originally published Oct. 3, 2016.
HARTA members aren’t content working up a sweat just using a trail.
They’re also working up a sweat creating a trail.
The members of HARTA — the Huntington Area Recreational Trails Association — are trimming brush, clearing roots and otherwise smoothing out the bed of the old Wabash and Erie Canal running between the Wabash River and U.S.-24.
Soon, they hope, the canal bed will become a paved extension of the Little River Trail, a trail which currently runs through the Forks of the Wabash Historic Park and turns to gravel short of Rangeline Road.
HARTA is working to extend the paved trail to Rangeline Road by relocating it to the canal bed. The sweat they’re putting into the project can count toward the 20 percent local funding match required by the Indiana Regional Cities grant they’re hoping to get to fund the $50,000 project.
But HARTA’s thinking big. Next in line — and HARTA President Jody Davenport admits that the line is long — is continuing the trail another 3.5 miles from Rangeline Road to the community of Andrews, a project that could cost $3 million. Then, maybe Lagro.
“That would take years,” Davenport says. “This is all baby steps.”
HARTA is being guided by a 175-page report compiled this summer by graduate students from the Indiana University School of Environmental and Public Affairs led by Huntington native Frank Nierzwicki, now a professor at the school.
Groups led by Nierzwicki have worked on projects for the City of Huntington in the past, but the city had nothing in the works this year. So Bryn Keplinger, the city’s director of development and community development, pointed Nierzwicki and his students to HARTA.
And HARTA took them up on their offer to make some plans.
“HARTA is all volunteers,” Davenport says. “To accomplish what these students were able to accomplish in two months would have taken us much longer.”
While the trail extension to Rangeline Road using the canal bed is fairly straightforward, the study offers two options for taking the trail on from Rangeline Road to Andrews — either north or south of the river — but says placing the trail on the north side of the river seems more feasible.
The trailhead in Andrews would be at the site of a now-vacant gas station/convenience store and could also include restrooms, the study suggests.
While HARTA has served as an advocate for the city’s trail-building project, Davenport says, “this is really our first experience in endeavoring to actually participate in a whole trail building process.”
In addition to the multi-use trails, HARTA envisions county-wide bike routes created using existing roads, linking the county’s smaller communities and pointing out sites of interest along the way.
Davenport wants to see the canal bed trail — about 700 feet long —completed yet this year; the bike routes, maybe by spring.
The longer trail extensions — to Andrews, to Lagro — are off in the future, but they need to be discussed now, she says. Adjoining counties are also talking trails, and planners need to make sure the trail in one county links up with the one in the next.
All that takes money, and HARTA has little to none. The organization, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, will be looking to gifts and grants to fund the vision.
“If we could do it tomorrow, then we would,” Davenport says. “The key is the money.”
The IU students’ study, she says, will expedite the grant-seeking process. The students have studied social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed new trails; mapped out two possible routes for taking the trail from Huntington to Andrews, documenting land that would need to be acquired; and laid out the steps needed to build a trail.
“Is it realistic? Yes,” Davenport says. “It’s been done all over the state of Indiana.
“It’s a long, laborious project. It requires many people to have the same vision.”