Cardinal Greenway, Indiana

Posted 07/01/12 by Laura Stark in America's Trails

Trail of the Month: July 2012

One can imagine the collective Hoosier hooray when the final leg of the Cardinal Greenway was put in place last summer. The rail corridor for Indiana's longest and long-awaited rail-trail was purchased nearly 20 years ago and now offers 62 miles of smooth, inviting blacktop spanning five counties in east-central Indiana.

The newest 20-mile section from Losantville to Richmond is "truly gorgeous," says Angie Pool, the executive director of Cardinal Greenways, the nonprofit that manages the trail. "It's way out in farm country, and you go through wooded areas and over small creeks."

A major boon for the trail's development came in 2006 with Governor Mitch Daniels' ambitious initiative, "Hoosiers on the Move." The primary goal of the program—designed to encourage healthy habits, enhance tourism and boost economic development—was to have a usable trail within 15 minutes or 7.5 miles of every resident by 2016. Flash forward to today, and with four years remaining, that feat is already close to completion.  

"We are actually looking at raising the bar with a new goal of having residents within five miles or 10 minutes of a trail," says Steve Morris, director of the Outdoor Recreation Division at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

To help accomplish this task, Governor Daniels pledged to double funding for trails from $10 million to $20 million annually, primarily by directing a larger percentage of annual federal Transportation Enhancement funding toward bicycle and pedestrian projects. TE has been a major source of funding for the Cardinal Greenway, as has support from donations and private-sector sources, such as the Ball Brothers Foundation and the Lilly Endowment.

"Because of the program, we saw trails that I didn't think would be built in my lifetime completed in just a couple of years," Morris says.

The Cardinal Greenway was included in the plan as a State Visionary Trail, one of several to be united to form a statewide system of interconnected pathways nearly 1,000 miles long once completed. And the Greenway is also part of the American Discovery Trail, a network of connected trails that forms a coast-to-coast, non-motorized route across the country.

"The Cardinal Greenway is not just a state trail, but part of a regional trail system," says Eric Oberg, manager of trail development at RTC's Midwest Regional Office. "These connections make the trail not just a destination for Hoosiers, but for residents outside the state as well."

The dream for such a trail began in 1993, when a group of dedicated locals saw the rail corridor's potential and purchased the land from CSX Corporation. The trail's name stems from the last passenger train that regularly traveled the railbed.

"The Cardinal Greenway was one of the pioneering flagship trails," says Morris, "developed early on by future-minded citizens that banded together."

Groundbreaking began four years later in Muncie, the physical and metaphorical center point of the trail. Much of the city's Wysor Street Depot, which once served as a destination for passengers and mail, has been beautifully restored to its 1901 condition, with the original woodwork and flooring. The building is included on the National Registry of Historic Places and houses the trail's headquarters, as well as a model railroad and gift shop. Old-fashioned cruiser bikes with big, cushy seats and large handlebars are also available here for a free spin along the trail.

"They've made the depot more than just a place to pick up a trail brochure," says Oberg, who recalls his visit to the trail fondly. "They've made it a destination."

Along its length, the pathway offers picturesque rural landscapes, fields of wildflowers and several bridges. These tranquil sections are interspersed with the cities of Marion, Muncie, Losantville and Richmond, which offer places to rest, eat and enjoy cultural attractions.

In addition to being a popular amenity for cyclists, walkers, inline skaters and cross-country skiers, the trail features a companion equestrian pathway that stretches nearly four miles alongside the Muncie section and provides access to the Prairie Creek Reservoir horse trail. The Medford Trailhead (at County Road 500 South) has hitching rails, a mounting step and ample room for trailers. But this is just the beginning; future plans call for a 25-mile horse trail to be built alongside the greenway.

Another project hinges on the resolution of a roughly 10-mile gap between Gaston and Gas City caused by opponents to the trail who purchased this stretch of rail corridor years ago. Alternative routes are being considered to replace the current on-road connection. Fortunately, the list of naysayers is small, and the trail has received widespread support from the surrounding communities.

That support has been crucial for Cardinal Greenways, which with only six staffers relies heavily on local volunteers. The trail has a reputation for being remarkably well maintained, especially given its distance. "We pride ourselves on having our trail in pristine shape," Pool says. "We have 400 active volunteers that help with the trail's maintenance and they really take ownership of it."

Supporters also come out in full force for the annual Great Greenway Tour held in July. The event, which draws more than 350 participants, benefits the maintenance of the greenway and promotes cycling and healthy lifestyles. Multiple route options departing from various points along the trail offer trips for all ages and cycling abilities.

As Pool enthusiastically notes, "I've been told the Cardinal Greenway is the best-kept secret in Indiana. We're not a secret any more. We're here for the communities we span."


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