RECREATION

The role of recreational activities within greenways corridors are significant. Indeed, planning for the enjoyment of our natural areas is a major component at nearly every governmental level, including private land-trusts. Either through parks, conservation areas or linear trail facilities, outlets for recreation represent the foundation of a region’s quality of life.

As a disclaimer, the matter of recreational access in and of itself is vast, and this plan will not attempt to cover all of these aspects. Thus there will be no focus herein on active recreation (soccer, baseball, etc.) or park programs. Of prime focus are those recreation activities that contribute to the expansion of our greenways network – land and water trails.

Land Trails

A source of immense regional pride remains our ever-expanding off-road trail network. From meager beginnings in the early 1990’s with only 13 miles of known trail, the Northwest Indiana region has exploded with nearly 160 miles of interregional trails connecting many communities. This truly is a success story on a landmark scale.

A number of factors have contributed to the success of trail-building in NW Indiana, but the seeds were laid many years ago. Due to the proximity of both Chicago and Lake Michigan, railroads literally crisscrossed Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties in the late 1800’s. By the turn of the 20th Century, roughly 1000 miles of track were in operation – a staggering amount for the size of the region.

However, the number of railroad miles decreased with our declining manufacturing base, and by the early 1990’s, about 700 miles of active line were left. This left about 300 miles for potential trail conversion, and thanks to new federal financing, a golden age of trail development commenced, and has yet to slow down.

Other factors contributed as well, including utility companies allowing trails within their corridors for no fee, and simply a general appreciation of their quality of life power. This latter factor has seen many new miles of trail developed without federal assistance.

Benefits

Trails offer a tremendous number of benefits – both individually and collectively. These include:



Throughout the NIRPC region, approximately 300 miles of railroad corridors were abandoned over the last 50 years. Well over 100 miles have been converted to trail use, but plenty remain. These corridors, often wide and heavily wooded, offer unparalleled opportunities for trail conversions.


Apart from the abandoned corridors are those that are currently active. “Rails With Trails” are becoming a popular option for trail development, and have been proven safe through a report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation2. Since rails with trails are rare in the Midwest (more common on the coasts), proposing routes on these active corridors will be challenging with railroad companies.


Another linear corridor that also affords opportunities are utility-based, usually with overhead powerlines or underground pipelines. The Northern Indiana Public Service Corporation, or NIPSCO, is the primary landowner of these utilities, and over the years many miles of trail have been built on their properties for zero cost to the municipality. NIPSCO has been an excellent partner in the creation of the regional trail network.


A final corridor option are those riparian, or waterways which meander through the region. Many of these rivers, creeks or ditches are county regulated drains, and in turn must be kept clear of physical impediments within 75 feet of the waterway’s center line. This enables county crews to maintain the waterways, but also could afford trail development opportunities.

However, building within these drainage zones does require a permit, and most importantly, they are privately owned by the adjacent landowner.


Beyond linear corridors, other options can be mapped out including right-of-way space, and “in- country” routes along open fields. A clear example of utilizing rights-of-way exist in Valparaiso with their Pathways network. This system has been developed by widening existing sidewalks


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2 “Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned,” U.S. Department of Transportation, August 2002.

along streets. As of 2016, over 15 miles of these sidepaths have been created, with many more scheduled for construction.


“In-country” routes are far more challenging due to land ownership issues and costs. Sometimes few linear opportunities exist to connect areas, so new ones have to be planned carefully with landowner concerns addressed.



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4 National Household Travel Survey, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 5 Economic Impact of Recreational Trail Use, Ernesto C. Venegas, Ph.D., Minnesota Department of Employment, November 2009

6 The Power of Trails for Promoting Physical Activity in Communities, Active Living Research, January 2011