Collaboration is awarded $1.6 million for trail improvements

Submitted photoWORKING TOGETHER: Boone and Clinton county officials gathered at the Big 4 Trail in Thorntown just north of Sugar Creek to celebrate the $1.6 million grant awarded to the Big 4 Trail project between Thorntown and Colfax. Pictured are (from left) Elise Nieshalla, Boone County councilor; Kevin Van Horn, Boone County councilor; Donnie Lawson, Boone County commissioner; Dave “Grumpy” Williams, Thorntown councilor; Angie Moody, Thorntown community development and parks director; Dan Warkentien, board treasurer of Friends of Boone County Trails; Derek Warren, board president of Friends of Boone County Trails; Tom Santelli, Boone County commissioner; Steve Clossin, Colfax utility and street department superintendent; Betty Snell, Colfax clerk-treasurer; and Liz Stitzel, Clinton County area plan director.

With gratitude, the Boone County Commissioners signed an ordinance to accept transfer of three miles of trail to be developed north of Thorntown to Colfax within the next three years. The trail land was used as a matching grant for a Next Level Trails program through the state. Recently, it was announced Colfax was awarded a $1.6 million grant to improve the section of trail. Once the trail is completed, Colfax and Clinton County will deed the land back to Boone County for maintenance.

The preparation of the grant proposal was a collaboration between the two counties and towns.

Clinton County Area Plan Commissioner Liz Stitzel came to the Boone County Commissioners with the idea for a partnership for the grant. In order to make the 20 percent local match, the Friends of Boone County Trails, which purchased the land, would put up the value of trail land.

“It doesn’t do Colfax or Clinton County any good to pave a mile or half mile of trail, if it doesn’t connect anything,” Stitzel said. “There’s no economic benefit from a trail to nowhere.”

The total mileage to be developed between Colfax and Thorntown is 4.7 miles. Stitzel said Friends of Boone County Trails owns trail land north of Colfax and there may be another grant proposal in the works with Tippecanoe County. In Clinton County, the rail-trail is only another mile or so out of Colfax before the Tippecanoe County line.

Boone County Council member Elise Nieshalla said the rail bed north of Thorntown had some drainage problems.

“The water was building up on either side of the trail,” Nieshalla said. “They had to dig out the trail to allow the water to flow … With this grant, they’re going to be able to put the proper drainage in, so the water can flow side to side and build back up the trail.”

Nieshalla made sure to recognize the contribution of the trail land from the Friends of Boone County Trails.

“The Friends have really been the pioneers of our trail in Boone County and beyond into Clinton County,” she said. “They have been acquiring trail land so it could be developed and then given over to municipalities or local units of government that can work toward that end.”

Piece by piece, officials are working toward a trail from Zionsville to Lafayette. In Boone County, the trail would go south from Zionsville and connect to the Monon.

The Next Level Trail program handed out $24.9 million to trail initiatives like the Big 4 for 42 miles of new trail development. There are two more rounds of grants to be handed out. Nieshalla said that in the first round, no doughnut counties around Indianapolis received a grant. Both Whitestown and Zionsville submitted proposals and are expected to re-submit for the next round.

“Their applications are very strong,” Nieshalla said. “Lebanon will also be going for a grant in this second round.”

Trail updates are needed for the path from Lebanon to Thorntown, Nieshalla said. The Big 4 rail bed between Lebanon and Whitestown was just recently designated as the best and least expensive route and Nieshalla said the county is actively trying to get that portion of the trail ready so it might benefit from a Next Level Trails grant.

“We’re hearing from the DNR that the second round application is going to be due sometime toward the end of the year,” Nieshalla added. “Everyone is working to make sure that we are ready to go.”

Nieshalla mentioned the historical importance of this railroad that carried Abraham Lincoln to his inauguration and his final resting place.