PORTAGE | Northwest Indiana and Chicago's south suburbs are now linked to a 6,800-mile trail system spanning from Delaware to California, officials announced Thursday.
"It's incredibly exciting that this area is on a national trail," said Ders Anderson, northern Illinois state coordinator for the American Discovery Trail. "This has national significance."
The announcement came at Thursday's Cornucopia, the annual state of the trails meeting coordinated by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
The American Discovery Trail, developed in 1991 and patterned after the Appalachian Trail, connects 6,800 miles of nonmotorized trails from Delaware to California. The trail splits into a northern and southern route between Cincinnati and Denver.
Previously, the northern route only went as far north in Indiana and Illinois as the Kankakee River.
The American Discovery Trail Society recently recommended a re-route of the northern trail to include Northwest Indiana and the south suburbs due to the rapid development of trails in the region.
The American Discovery Trail does not own or operate any property in the system. Rather, it designates existing trails and public roadways as part of the national trail system.
Much of the new route of the trail is on "lightly traveled, country roads," according to Mitch Barloga, nonmotorized transportation coordinator for NIRPC.
"We always prefer a trail," Barloga said "We don't have trails everywhere at this point, but we're working to make that happen."
The new route cuts a diagonal from North Judson in Starke County through portions of LaPorte, Porter and Lake counties.
The trail continues in Illinois at the state line in Lansing.
Future plans include linking the Pennsy Greenway, Eerie Lackawanna Trail, Thorn Creek Trail and Old Plank Road Trail as part of the American Discovery Trail through the region, Barloga said.
Anderson said Northwest Indiana's abundance of trail development led to the re-route.
"This is where the trail-building is occurring," Anderson said. "It's not happening along the Kankakee. The whole idea of bringing the trail up to where the trails are developing is a no-brainer."
Anderson said there will be a one-mile gap between Lansing and the Thorn Creek Trail where users will have to use roadways.
"In a few years, we will see it complete from Lansing to Joliet," Anderson said.
The American Discovery Trail was initially conceived as a coast-to-coast hiking trail.
"Almost all of the hikers are using the southern option because when they enter the northern option, where do you stay overnight?" Anderson said, saying there are no campgrounds, hotels or motels on the northern routes.
"That's the primary problem we're going to be trying to figure out in the next couple of years," Anderson said. "I've talked to Mitch (Barloga) about how to collaborate across state lines to think of ways to provide overnight options for these hikers."
Jeff Edmondson, Indiana state coordinator for American Discovery Trail, said the inclusion of the region is exciting.
"You can literally ride a bike from Richmond to the state line on a paved, marked trail," Edmondson said. "As you develop trails along the way, we'll add it and get it off the roads, thereby making it much safer."