The Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award has honored 41 individuals around the nation who have made significant contributions to the rail-trail movement through their hard work, volunteerism or support—in short, people who have gone above and beyond in the name of trails. Learn more.LEARN MORE
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is pleased to announce Indiana State Rep. Carey Hamilton as the 2022 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion for her leadership in founding the Indiana Legislative Trails Caucus, a bipartisan group of state legislators committed to building out the state’s trail network.
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Rep. Hamilton’s inspiration for the caucus came from an RTC newsletter in early 2020, which called upon Indiana to form a trails caucus similar to the one formed in Ohio in 2017. Hamilton, who at 25 quit her job to hike the Appalachian Trail, was immediately all-in.
“Within like 10 minutes, I had Mitch on the phone,” Hamilton said during a recent speech about the caucus. She was referring to Greenways Foundation of Indiana President Mitch Barloga who, along with Brian Housh, RTC’s Midwest policy manager, would provide critical input as the caucus developed.
The caucus officially launched on March 5, 2020—“right before the world closed down for the pandemic,” Hamilton said. “But you know what? The pandemic did not slow down our work.”
Hamilton, a Democrat from Indianapolis, has stressed the universal appeal of the trail caucus since its founding.
“We were able to quickly build support,” Hamilton said. “Again, very bipartisan, very bicameral. Urban and rural. Quickly was able to gain that support and come up with an agenda and advance that in the statehouse.”
Hamilton co-founded the caucus with Rep. Anthony Cook (R-Cicero) and Sens. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and Eddie Melton (D-Gary), and now co-chairs with Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) and Sens. Stacey Donato (R-Logansport) and Michael Griffin (D-Highland). From the outset, the caucus stressed the benefits of a vibrant, expansive trail network at a time when people turned out in droves to outdoor recreation opportunities for their physical and mental health. The pandemic also altered financial plans big and small.
“We are all painfully aware of the negative impacts on health and economy caused by the current pandemic and appreciate your leadership during these challenging times, which require thoughtful allocation of state resources to keep our Hoosiers safe,” the trail caucus leaders said in a collective May 2020 statement to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who was forced to make difficult cuts to the state budget that year.
As the caucus began to seek funding options in response to changes in the state budget, a federal funding opportunity presented itself. “Our caucus took that moment to grab that opportunity, and we were able to help secure $60 million toward a dedicated trail fund,” said Hamilton. “That was an exciting moment for our caucus.”
Since then, the Next Level Trails program has been infused with funds that made possible a third phase of the program. This spring, Hamilton applauded that announcement, celebrating the 77 additional miles of trails coming to Indiana’s trail network, including in her neck of the woods, with three new sections of the Nickel Plate Trail being added via a $5 million investment.
“This is an exciting moment for the residents of House District 87, as well as Hoosiers across the state who will be positively impacted with this historic trails infrastructure investment,” Hamilton said in April. “Expanding our trails network spurs local economic development and strengthens neighborhoods, while improving quality of life and public health for Hoosiers.”
The award comes at the tail end of Indiana’s Year of the Trails, where RTC recognized two leaders who have propelled the Hoosier State into a new era of trail development. In 2021, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb was recognized for the Next Level Trails program, which has invested the largest infusion of trail funding in the state’s history.
The momentum behind trail funding and development in the governor’s office and the legislature is anticipated to have a significant impact on efforts to build out the state’s section of the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail®.