The Race to Fund Maintenance in Indiana

Posted 11/20/14 by Leeann Sinpatanasakul in Building Trails

Photo CC Anna Hessser

There is a race going on in the great state of Indiana—and it’s not 200 loops around a track. It’s a race to take care of some of the state’s most treasured assets: their trails.

Trails have long been popular with residents who know that they provide a safe, fun and healthy way to travel, but in the past few years, the state government has begun to realize the importance of trails, too, and has jumped on board to promote them. Working to bring trails closer to the public, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports that their goal to put Hoosier residents within a 15-minute drive of a trail facility is 97 percent complete!

With new trails comes a need for maintenance funding to keep them open and running smoothly. In March, Governor Mike Pence approved a Recreational Trail Maintenance Fund—another sign of the state’s growing commitment to trails in response to public demand.

Photo by Mark Stosberg

However, there’s a catch. Currently, the fund is like an empty piggy bank with no revenue source! Dedicated trail lovers and trail groups like the Greenways Foundation are working with the legislature to find a solution to take care of the trails Hoosiers know and love. Indeed, Indiana is racing to catch up to its regional Midwest neighbors, who already employ a variety of methods to fund maintenance.

So how are other states filling that piggy bank?

In Illinois, the Bicycle Path Grant Program, which can be used for trail building and maintenance, is funded by a portion of vehicle registration fees, including from all-terrain vehicles. In Wisconsin, the purchase of a State Trails Pass for some trails is required for certain activities that are more damaging to trails, the proceeds of which go toward funding maintenance. In Michigan, a bottle bill—where you can reclaim your empty soda cans for a 5 or 10 cent refund—helps encourage recycling, and a portion of the unclaimed deposits fund maintenance of Michigan’s extensive trail system.

Indiana is taking its cues from other Midwest states as it strives to improve its own trail system. Could it try a State Trails Pass like Wisconsin? Or dedicate a portion of existing fees like in Illinois?

Currently, Hoosier trail advocates are looking into a bottle bill similar to Michigan. In other states with bottle bills, these laws have been tried-and-true methods to increase recycling, which keeps valuable recyclables out of landfills, off streets and out of waterways. Even the unclaimed deposits can add up to millions of dollars each year, with a portion of that going back to the public to fund environmental programs such as the building and maintenance of trails and greenways. Could this important bill be the answer to Indiana’s trail maintenance revenue?

The state has already shown an important commitment to trails, first by bringing trails closer to Hoosier residents and then by gearing up to establish a maintenance fund. This spring, the legislature will look at a number of solutions for trail maintenance revenue. They have carried the torch this far; now it’s time to enter the next leg of the race for Indiana’s trails!

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