Lori Rose knows where the trail ends.
Indeed, in and around Fort Wayne, she knows a lot of places where trails end, and you might say those places are the bane of her existence.
There’s one place, says Rose, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails, standing at a pavilion on the Towpath Trail along Engle Road just south of Jefferson Boulevard and pointing across the street. There, piles of dirt stand at the entrance to a newly constructed wooden pedestrian bridge – still impassable because it has no decking.
Then there’s the bright yellow sign along Dicke Road, a short distance to the north of Jefferson. The sign reads Trail Ends in big black letters. Dicke Road leads to Covington Road, where an existing trail connects to loops that could take trail users to destinations as far-flung as the Jorgensen YMCA and, soon, the Shoppes at Scott Road along Illinois Road.
But to get to that Covington Road connection point, a runner, walker or bicyclist would have to navigate about two miles of unimproved road shoulder beyond the sign.
At least with the bridge, Rose says, there are plans – and enough money – to complete the trail in a matter of months. With the Dicke/Covington Road portion, proposals exist for a trail extension, but there’s no money at present to see them through.
Such missing links beleaguer the 75 miles of area trails now overseen by Fort Wayne Trails Inc., a nonprofit organization that came about in 2011 with a consolidation of the Greenway Consortium, Aboite New Trails and Northwest Allen Trails.
Each group, Rose says, contributed miles and miles of completed trails – but also spots where trails come to an abrupt end or are downgraded to sidewalks or bike lanes on the street, making them less attractive or useful for users.
But now Fort Wayne Trails is working on a two-year-old plan called Countdown to Connectivity and doing other work to identify, prioritize and secure land and money for more than 250 miles of proposed trails in Allen County.
The aim is to link trails for uninterrupted travel or with key destinations so the trails could be more easily used recreationally, for bicycle commuting and by tourists.
Six priority projects are already identified, with three set to start or finish this year and three more hoped to begin in 2014.
Rose says the current patchwork of trails came about because of how they came to be.
It’s really kind of unique, the situation with the trails, because in other places there were a lot of top-down projects, she says. Here it’s been much more grassroots.
In other words, many of the area’s trails got started because a group of neighbors or friends got together to push for particular projects. As an example, she cites a trail in Indian Trails Park behind the Jorgensen Y that began with private dollars from a foundation started after area resident Ronald G. Repka died after a bicycling accident in 2001.
Another example, she says, is the Pufferbelly Trail from Wallen Road between Coldwater and Lima roads north to the Parkview Family YMCA on Dupont Road. The Pufferbelly – a nickname for a steam locomotive – came about after residents saw an opportunity for a trail along an old railroad line and secured government and private funding.
Some notably connected trails resulted from the groups’ consolidation. Rose points out a user now can take the Rivergreenway west from Moser Park in New Haven to the Towpath Trail that leads to the Lutheran Hospital campus in southwest Fort Wayne and beyond – with only one stretch of sidewalk on the bridge near where Lafayette Street becomes Spy Run Avenue and a brief stretch of street along Thieme Drive in Fort Wayne’s West Central neighborhood.
Another area will soon be connected. The Illinois Road (Indiana 14) widening project includes a trail now under construction that will help link several stretches of existing and proposed trails in southwest Fort Wayne.
But going north from downtown is still problematic. No trail exists from Rivergreenway locations just north of downtown connecting with the Pufferbelly. A route, with a spur leading to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, has been proposed but faces obstacles, Rose says.
While the stretch immediately north of the Greenway is a priority project, it’s in an already congested and largely commercial area, she says, and has been affected by uncertainties connected to the pending State Boulevard improvement project and plans for development of riverfront areas and the former OmniSource property on North Clinton Street.
Then there’s the need for a crossing, likely a bridge, across Coliseum Boulevard to complete the trail, Rose says.
Connection to downtown is so necessary, Rose says. What we’re hoping to do is bring pressure from the north and south so that (linkage) becomes sort of inevitable.
As for a Pufferbelly extension south of Wallen Road, one is proposed, but no plans exist.
Other proposed but unfunded trails include the Beckett’s Run Trail that would run southeast from the Dupont Road YMCA to Wallen and Auburn roads and then to Shoaff Park and south along the St. Joe River. A 1.2-mile trail north from Johnny Appleseed to St. Joe Center Road that would be the first stretch is proposed to begin construction by late 2015.
Meanwhile, the Six Mile Creek Trail, a sort of Interstate 469 of trails that would run from Southtown Centre to New Haven and then north to connect with Shoaff Park and the Dupont YMCA is also proposed but largely unfunded.
Another major proposed but unfunded link would place a trail along the length of Ardmore Avenue between Covington and Lower Huntington roads. A proposed trail between Swinney Park and the University of Saint Francis is a high priority, if unfunded, project, Rose says.
Then there are what she calls orphan trails – trails that already exist but don’t connect to any other trail or only to a proposed-but-unfunded trail.
One orphan is in the Renaissance Pointe residential redevelopment area on the city’s south side; another runs along both sides of Lima Road from Dupont south to just beyond Cook Road.
Even some proposed trails have abrupt endings, such as the Six Mile Trail, which ends for about a half mile along Maysville Road between Trier and Stellhorn roads, before beginning again. Rose says it’s hard to know when even the proposed trails might get started, let alone when that kind of connection might be made.
This year, she says, the trail group is concentrating its efforts on a five-year fundraising campaign to raise $500,000 a year for trails.
For several Countdown to Connectivity routes, she says, money is already in hand. For others, the group must raise matching funds to unlock more funds from the government.
Something we want to do now is empowering groups of citizens to raise funds and awareness, Rose says.
One group in Waynedale since 2011 has been hosting fundraisers, including the Taste of Waynedale, to raise money for trails in that area, she says. They’ve been quite successful and are going to help with a connection along Bluffton Road to Foster Park, she says.
It’s clear, Rose says, that area residents use and care about trails. In 2012, trail use was up by nearly a third from the previous year, to 483,581 people. That number held steady during 2013 and increased during the warmer months.
And, participation in the group’s two annual run/walk events more than quadrupled in 2012 from the previous year. Last year, the Pufferbelly 5K was up by nearly 50 percent to 450 participants and the Trail Blazer 10K and 5K races doubled to 900 participants.
We see up to 50,000 counted people per month using the trails when the weather is nice, Rose says. If every person gave just $1 each time he or she used a trail, she adds, the current funding goals would be more than met.
Our trails attract visitors, promote business investment and add value to neighborhoods, she says. The trails put us in touch with the natural beauty of our region – and connect us to each other.