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Steuben County honored with statewide trails award

By Mike Marturello mmarturello@kpcmedia.com

CARMEL — The Greenways Foundation of Indiana recognized Steuben County with its Outstanding Local Government award for 2019 at its annual luncheon at the Ritz Charles.

Indiana Greenways Awards are presented to individuals, organizations, communities, corporations and projects that have exhibited outstanding excellence in advancing greenways or multi-use trail development in Indiana.”

Steuben County was nominated for the award by Fort Wayne Trails Inc. Fort Wayne Trails has been working with Steuben County on formation of a citizens’ group to promote trail development and preservation in the community.

“We excitedly believe that this investment in trails is the beginning of a new wave of continued annual support for trails in Steuben County,” the Fort Wayne Trails nomination said. “Therefore, we nominate Steuben County for the Outstanding Local Government Award.”

At the luncheon to pick up the award were Steuben County commissioners Ron Smith and Lynne Liechty and highway Engineer Jen Sharkey.

“Initially the commissioners had reservations about spending this kind of money on a quality of life issue, but after attending that meeting (Thursday) where I saw that enthusiasm it makes me even more zealous to complete our trail and even make more paths in the future. I feel it was a worthy investment for the people of Steuben County and our visitors,” Smith said.

There currently is a bike trails advocacy group being formed in the county that will be working on future trail development.

“It’s also to involve the private sector in the funding,” Liechty said.

The group has met twice and is currently working on achieving nonprofit status so it can apply for grants.

Over the last two decades, Steuben County and other entities in Steuben County have been working to make trails a part of the community.

As in all trail projects, Steuben County has made of connecting a trail between Angola and Pokagon State Park.

The trail the county is constructing is part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources State Visionary Trail program and is part of the Poka-Bache Connector, reaching from Pokagon State Park, 81 miles south to Ouabache State Park near Bluffton.

The trail project started with construction in Pokagon that opened in 2001. That was followed by Angola building some 4 miles of trail in the city during the first decade of this century.

Steuben County started the connector to complete the original plan in 2015 with completion of just more than 1 mile in 2016. Last year the final leg was to be built, but weather delayed construction. The trail is to be completed this year in time for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Currently citizen leaders and staff in the Steuben County Highway Department are creating a local advocacy group to engage more citizens in the planning, implementation and fundraising of trails.

Also, engineering students at Trine University are actively partnering with the highway department to use the trail leg south of Angola as a senior design project in the spring and fall of 2019.

Steuben County, in collaboration with Angola, is looking at expanding the trail from its trailhead at Commons Park in Angola to travel south to the Steuben-DeKalb line. It is hoped that this trail will eventually connect with existing trail in Waterloo that will someday reach Allen and Wells counties to complete the Poka-Bache Connector.

“These efforts showcase how Steuben County is embracing collaboration in the community to accomplish their trail development network,” Sharkey said.

“I think we have been fortunate to have Jen Sharkey as part of the Steuben County bike trail. She has been professional, proactive and accurate in her efforts, the core of the whole movement,” Smith said.

The Greenways Foundation is a statewide, charitable trust providing leadership and advocacy in the growth and use of Indiana greenways and trails. They accomplish this by catalyzing action and facilitating cooperation between government and private sector partners, providing technical assistance for community-based efforts and soliciting and distributing financial resources to support the development, enhancement and operation of all Indiana greenways and trails.