Huntington will soon have a new jewel in its parks system that will not only encourage fitness but also honor the city's extensive railroad history.
The new park, to be called Erie Heritage Park, will be located on Briant Street and Riverside Drive, at the Little River along the Erie rail bed. The location is the eastern hub of the city's planned trails network.
Mayor Brooks Fetters made the announcement Saturday, March 1, at a fitting location - the Huntington County Historical Museum - home to innumerable artifacts chronicling the rail industry.
About 50 people attended the announcement, many of them railroad retirees. Fetters told them celebrating Huntington's rail history is integral to making the city a great place to live.
"I'm an avid bicyclist and I love riding rail trails and seeing the countryside like many of you have seen it from a seat on a train, or from the front of an engine or the back of a caboose," he said.
"Riding a bicycle on rail trails around the nation has really been inspiring. It's a great way to relax. It's an enjoyable part of life, and I have learned a little bit on a bicycle what you must have experienced in your years of delivering freight and passengers across this great country."
Riverside Park, which will be renovated and renamed Erie Heritage Park, will be incorporated into the city's master plan for 5- 1/2 miles of trails and greenways, which was first created in 2007.
The first segment of the trail system, known as the Lime City Trail, is already completed. It follows the Wabash River from the Rangeline Road bridge, through the Forks of the Wabash property and ends near Quayle Run, which serves as the western trailhead.
The trail is planned to continue through Elmwood Park to what Fetters called the central trailhead, the former railroad depot located in downtown Huntington at 11 W. State St., which will be known as Schenkel Station.
There, visitors will find parking, restrooms and information on the trails as well as Huntington's attractions.
From there the trail will head east along the Little River to the park, which will become the eastern trailhead. From there the old Erie Railroad bridge will be used for pedestrian traffic as the trail winds north toward Huntington University.
At present, the third section including the Frederick Street intercepter sewer project from Elmwood Park to LaFontaine Street is under construction and expected to be finished in May.
The fourth segment, called the Little River Trail, situated on the south side of the Little River between LaFontaine Street and the Erie bridge, is the next to be built. That segment is slated to break ground in the middle of June and undergo construction shortly thereafter.
The diamond-shaped Erie Railroad logo will be used on signage to mark the trail. The park will feature historical markers about Huntington's Railroad heritage, a pavilion, picnic tables, benches, bicycle racks, trailside interpretive signs and directional markers guiding trail users to the city's points of interest. The amenities include ADA accessibility. Fetters says the overlook provides an excellent view.
"We wanted to create a park that truly honors the history, the legacy and the memories of the Erie Railroad and its impact that has made what Huntington is through the years," he says. "I would love to find a caboose to sit up on the high area where you can see the railroad track."
The cost for the project from LaFontaine Street to the Erie bridge will run around $1 million, including rehabiliatng the bridge. About $750,000 of that amount has already been raised via public resources, Fetters says. He plans to raise the remaining $250,000 through private and corporate donations. He also plans to call on contractors and suppliers who do business with the city of Huntington to solicit their contributions to the project.
"It takes a community to make things like this happen," Fetters adds.
Patty Souers, past president of the Huntington Historical Society and a volunteer at the museum, says she is thrilled that railroad history is a major theme of the project.
"I'm a railroad child. My dad was a railroader, my grandfather was a railroader, so I am very much a railroad person," she says. "I think the idea of trails and parks that celebrate that heritage is a wonderful use of that land."
Martin Young, who worked more than 43 years as an engineer on the Erie and Conrail, says the announcement brought back many fond memories of his days riding the rails.
"There was nothing nicer than working on the railroad. It was something different every day. Every trip was different," he says. "The railroad is what made Huntington. If it wasn't for the railroad Huntington wouldn't even be here."
More information on the Huntington trail and greenway projects, including maps, pictures and donation links can be found online at cityofhuntington.wix.com/huntingtonprojects
Complete caption: Retired Erie Railroader Martin Young (center) tells a story of what it was like to work on the railroad back in the day, as Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters (standing at right) listens along with those who attended the mayor’s announcement of a new Erie Heritage Park and trails system on Saturday, March 1.