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One of several red bridges along the trail © Indy Parks and RecreationThe Monon has a proud railroad history dating back to before the Civil War © RTC
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Trail of the Month: March 2009
Indiana's Monon Trail

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With all the hoop legends and speedsters of Indianapolis lore, you might think a trail would have a hard time getting noticed there. But in the heart of Indiana's heartland, one rail-trail stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of its Hoosier peers: the Monon Trail. You'll hear it praised from coast to coast, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy just named the pathway to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

Running from Indy north through Carmel, this 15.7-mile Indiana icon follows part of the old Monon Railroad, which once provided a central route from Lake Michigan south to the Ohio River. As one of the only north-south corridors in the state, the Monon became an important supply line for Union troops and volunteers during the Civil War, and later for coal and other freight. Refitted for passenger service after World War II, the Monon shuttled customers twice daily between Indianapolis and Chicago. Along its tracks, as well, the Monon line served five major universities in Indiana—Butler, DePauw, Purdue, Indiana University and Wabash College.

Before long, the railroad became inseparable from the state's identity. It was sometimes called the "Lifeline of Indiana" or the "Hoosier Line." In the 1940s, in fact, some passenger cars even bore the red and gray of Indiana University, and freight locomotives were painted black and gold for the Purdue Boilermakers.

Local pride in those early railroading years very much survives today in the Monon Trail, which sees an estimated 1.3 million users a year—a number that climbs steadily. The heavy traffic is no surprise considering the trail's urban neighborhoods and enormous connectivity. From the southern end in Indianapolis, the asphalt pathway heads north from Interstates 65 and 70 through North Park, by the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the trendy Broad Ripple Village, Marott Park and Nature Preserve, and just down the road from Butler University.

The Monon's incredible proximity to arts, cultural and tourist attractions—like the Indianapolis Art Center in Broad Ripple Village—is really what distinguishes the trail, says Karina Straub of Indy Parks, which manages the lower 10.4 miles of the trail in Marion County (fully completed in 2003). Hop on any section, and you'll find active neighborhood communities and nightlife, unique restaurants and coffee shops, and even shaved ice in the summertime, within feet of the pathway.

Straub, the greenways manager for Indy Parks, says the Monon's extraordinary success in Indianapolis has inspired other communities to seek their own trails. "The Monon really set the tone for rail-trails in our community," she says. "People see the sheer popularity and excitement behind the Monon, and then they say, 'Well, where's our Monon?'"

Luckily, plenty of other folks get to share in the prize, because the Monon Trail doesn't end at the edge of Indianapolis. The northern 5.3 miles of the trail (known locally as the Monon Greenway) begin at 96th Street, extend under the Interstate 465 beltway and then up through downtown Carmel, itself a great destination for visitors.

Celebrated as the trail now is in Carmel, residents had to enjoy the Monon from afar at first. In the 1990s, trail advocates watched Indianapolis begin to develop the southern portion of the Monon corridor to great applause, but they couldn't find enough local political will to get the trail built into their community. The answer? Shake up the city's leadership.

One of those outspoken trail backers was Ron Carter. Frustrated with inaction in his local government, he decided to run for the Carmel City Council in 1995 on a staunch trails platform. Shortly after he won a seat and took office, Carter and a coalition of supporters began assembling the trail through Carmel. Years later, Carter remains an active voice in trail advocacy. He serves as executive director of the Greenways Foundation, a charitable trust working to promote the growth, use and enhancement of Indiana greenways. Yet wherever he talks trails, Carter always starts with the Monon.

"The Monon has been a real boost," he says. "Not only to the economy, but to community spirit. What I find most engaging is that whenever my wife and I use it, which is pretty frequently, everybody is smiling and having a good time. The trail is just a wonderful place for everybody to come together—it makes your community a good place to live and work and raise a family."

As such an accessible gathering place, the Monon touches thousands of people a day, from commuters to outdoors lovers to dog walkers and retirees. Preserving part of the rail history that defined Indiana's early growth, the pathway remains a model and impetus for countless other trail projects throughout the state. It's urban, urbane and well-traveled, the sort of trail and park that makes friends wherever it goes. So even if you don't yet have a Monon of your own, you'll certainly be welcome on the original.

For more information, photos and user reviews of the trail, or to post your own comments, please visit TrailLink.com.


This month's Trail of the Month is generously sponsored by:

 

Related Links

Indy Parks and Recreation

Greenways Foundation

TrailLink.com

 

Trail Facts

Name: Monon Trail

Trail Web site: Monon Trail

Length: 15.7 miles

Counties: Hamilton, Marion

Start Point/ End Point: 10th Street in Indianapolis to 146th Street in Carmel; new addition extends north to 161st Street in Westfield.

Surface type: Asphalt

Uses: Walking, jogging, bicycling, inline skating and cross-country skiing; the trail is also wheelchair accessible.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Parking: The best way to locate parking and driving directions is to log into TrailLink.com to access the GIS interactive map for the Monon Trail. Registration is free, and it will enable you to access maps for all other trails in the database.

Recent Developments: A new addition to the Monon Trail has just opened, running from the northern end in Carmel to 161st Street in Westfield. Already open to the public, this section will be officially dedicated this spring.

Nearby Attractions: True, it's not even spring yet, but the 2009 Indiana State Fair is coming right up on August 7-23. You won't find an easier way to access the fun than on the Monon Trail, which runs directly along the fairgrounds. Find out more about the animal shows, exhibits, rides and all the events and entertainment the fair has to offer.

If you're in Carmel and you're hungry—and the corndogs and cotton candy at the fair are still months away—you won't find a more trail-friendly stop than Bub's Burgers and Ice Cream. The restaurant sits right alongside the Monon and is open year-round. Home of the "Big Ugly" burger, Bub's is often teeming with folks in bicycle shorts and exercise gear, so don't worry about what you're wearing. Just bring your appetite!

From now until April 19, 2009, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition of Depression-era American prints, published between 1935 and 1950. You can see the work of prominent American artists, including Grant Wood, that sold by mail order for $5 at the time. For admission details, hours or to learn about other exhibits, visit the museum's calendar of events.

Visitors can explore trendy neighborhoods right along the trail, including Broad Ripple Village © RTC

You won't be lonely on this trail: the Monon sees more than 1.3 million users a year © Indy Parks and Recreation

Smiles abound among trail users, says Carter © Indy Parks and Recreation

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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