Indiana is Going Big on Trailways

Indiana is Going Big on Trailways

Trailways are often overlooked for their significance in our state’s logistics network, but Indiana recognizes their economic potential and has been investing big. About $150 million has been awarded in grants Hoosier trails over the last few years through the Next Level Trails program, with potentially more on the way during this year’s legislative sessions. And right around the start of the year, the largest trail project to date received a major state funding boost to start carving out a new path.

National experts agree things like trails, bike paths, and nature walkways offer a good return on investment. Those types of elements make communities more attractive to new residents and businesses, in addition to their health and wellbeing benefits. That’s why our state has opted to take on a huge new trailway project this year.


Did You Know?

On average, hard surface trails in Indiana cost between $200K and $1M per mile to develop.

Source: Indiana Destination Development Corporation, Trail Development Funding Report 


New 60+ Mile Trail Coming to Indiana

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently awarded $29.5 million for what will ultimately become the longest recreational trail in the state. This investment represents the final dollars that were available from the DNR through Next Level Trails as of early 2023, and more funding may be allocated to the program in the near future.

The project is called the Monon South Trail and it will span about 62.3 miles through five Hoosier counties – Floyd, Clark, Washington, Lawrence, and Orange. The trail will pass through numerous towns, including New Albany, Borden, New Pekin, Salem, Campbellsburg, Saltillo, Orleans, Mitchell, and others.

Total costs and construction timelines for the project are not yet defined. But details from Radius Indiana estimated that development of the trail through four of the counties in its territory could cost between $23.8 million and $43.9 million. That would be for the parts of the trail located in Lawrence, Orange, Washington, and a portion of Clark County – not the entirety of the project though.

In addition to the funding provided by the DNR, the Indiana Uplands region pledged to provide $1 million in READI funding, and Radius has already spent and committed over $650,000 of its own funds for the project to date. Construction using the current pledged funds will take place from 2024 to 2026.

The new trail is planned to run along what was formerly a CSX Railway corridor, which is a popular option for trail developers. DNR officials commented that trails developed along former railways, referred to as “railbanking,” are effectively ready-made once the tracks and ties are removed.

Local economic development officials believe the new trail could be a catalyst for growth. Quality-of-place initiatives have been a major focus throughout the state over the last few years, notably for the hospitality and tourism sector and in efforts to draw new talent to various regions. Radius said that employment in hospitality and tourism is 18% higher than the national average in the four counties along its portion of the trail.

“Communities like Borden and Pekin and Campbellsburg and Mitchell all have the chance to turn the Monon into a business growth engine because tourists will be walking and biking through the middle of those towns in the coming years,” commented Radius CEO Jeff Quyle. “And the amenities that grow to serve the tourists will also be there to improve services for the current and future residents as well.”

As work on the Monon South trail moves forward, a private non-profit organization called Southern Indiana Trailways will be managing the project. They will be overseeing development, management, and maintenance as a board similar to those overseeing other major trailways like the Cardinal Greenways – which itself is a massive 62-mile trail.


Other Trailblazing Announcements

Lots of other types of trail projects are taking shape throughout Indiana currently. And though they haven’t gotten much major media attention, they are all very important new connections for their respective areas.

Late last year for example, several important trail milestones were reached. A newly completed segment of the Karst Farm Greenway in Monroe County became the 50th mile of trailways funded by Next Level Trails. It was a 2.67-mile extension that was backed by a $2.33 million grant. The entire trail now covers about 7.3 miles between the town of Ellettsville and the city of Bloomington. Ellettsville was also awarded $1.13 million last year to build another 2.11-mile extension, due to be completed in 2024.

Also, the city of Greenfield opened a new 1.4-mile multi-use trail that was backed by a $699K grant. This was one of the projects that received funding during the first round of Next Level Trails. One of the most important aspects of Greenfield’s new trail is that it will provide safe routes to school for children in local neighborhoods.


Pathways to Come

With so many trail projects receiving funding and getting started in their construction, Indiana’s going to be getting a lot of new pathways for some time. This combined with all of the other efforts to improve quality-of-place amenities taking shape around the state could add up to very good returns for Hoosiers. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of results happen as things move further down the path.

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Category Features, Logistics