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Hoosier Rails-to-Trails Council

Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society

Trail of the Month Archive


Trail of the Month: June 2002
Monon Trail, Indiana

In Indianapolis and Carmel, Ind., the Monon Trail is a testament to the power of rail-trails to re-shape communities. Residents of both communities are quickly realizing how convenient and safe the paved trail is for a wide variety of non-motorized recreational activities, including walking, running, biking and inline skating. In addition, with the trail connecting to a large number of local amenities including parks, libraries, museums, cafes, bike shops, workplaces, schools and a farmer's market, many people are now using the Monon in a way that is quite familiar to this former railroad right-of-way: as a transportation corridor. Not surprisingly, those who enjoy a little human-powered transportation also tend to spend some dollars at these local establishments, thus providing a boost to the economy.

The Monon Trail consists of 7.5 miles in Indianapolis, where the Monon Trail is part of the Indy Greenways network, and 5.2 miles in Carmel where the trail is known as the Monon Greenway. The Monon Trail—like many successful rail-trail projects—resulted from a grassroots effort in the mid-1980s. In 1989, with the creation of Indy Greenways, the Monon Trail began to take shape. By 1996, Indy Greenways had spurred the completion of the Indianapolis portion of the Monon.

Once in Carmel, the trail segment becomes known as the Monon Greenway. This segment took a bit longer to complete than its urban counterpart and is now in its second year of existence. The Carmel segment is notable for the immense support it received not only from local citizens but from the city government of Carmel which made the trail's development a priority. Thanks to their work, the Monon Greenway now serves as the centerpiece for a vast array of pedestrian-oriented development in downtown Carmel.  In October 2001, the trail section linking the Indianapolis and Carmel segments was officially opened, creating the continuous, 13-mile Monon Trail.

Local citizens and public officials are not content, though, and trail extensions are either planned, or in the process of being completed on both the southern end in Indianapolis and the northern end of the trail in Carmel. In Indianapolis, plans include adding a 3.5-mile section called the South Monon that will access the northeast corner of downtown Indianapolis at 10th Street and link with the seven-mile Fall Creek Trail. This extension will connect the Monon Trail to the Old Northside, Chattam Arch and Massachusetts Avenue districts of Indianapolis.

As with all rail-trails, the Monon Trail helps showcase a piece of American history, in this case by preserving a portion of the old Monon Railroad line. The Monon, part of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad, opened 300 miles of track from Lake Michigan down to the Ohio River in 1853. As one of the few north-south railroads of its time, the Monon played an integral role during the Civil War, carrying volunteers and supplies to Union troops and retrieving the wounded or sick. After the Civil War, the Monon provided exclusive service to the famed limestone industry of southern Indiana. Later, the Monon served five major universities in Indiana including Purdue University, Wabash College, DePauw University, Indiana University in Bloomington and Butler University in Indianapolis.

Currently, a large portion of the former Monon Railroad corridor remains abandoned from Indianapolis northwest to Monticello, a total of about 84 miles. But thanks to the hard work of local citizens, trail groups and public officials, residents and visitors alike can enjoy almost 13 miles of this corridor as a non-motorized multi-use trail. If you're ever in the neighborhood, take some time to enjoy the community spirit that prevails on Indiana's Monon Trail.

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