Avid bicyclist Chris Husum can leave his house in Munster and ride out to Chesterton mostly using the region's trail network.
He admits the ride, which begins on the Erie-Lackawana Trail before heading to Griffith, Hobart and out to Chesterton, can surprise some people.
“And it's all on a bike path -- and that's really cool,” Husum said.
Bicyclists agree the region's trail network is improving and increasing in popularity, but more connections among the trails are still needed. While the bulk of Husum's path follows trails, the trip out to Chesterton still requires street riding.
To connect from the Erie-Lackawana, a trail that spans Hammond to Crown Point, to the Oak-Savannah trail in Griffith, bicyclists must go about a mile down a narrow and industrial Colfax Street. Changing from the Oak-Savannah in Hobart to the Prairie-Duneland trail, which goes up to Chesterton, requires a trip through downtown Hobart.
“If there was one thing I'd like to see them do is connect them and have a safe passage to them,” said Guy Gallicho, of Highland, who is part of a riding club run by Trek Bicycle Store in Schererville. “I can't say enough good things about the trails. I wouldn't be riding if it wasn't for the trails.”
More connections are in the works, said Mitch Barloga, nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
A connection between the Erie-Lackawana and Oak-Savannah trails should receive funding this year with construction completed by 2015, Barloga said.
The new trail segment will run through Oak Ridge County Park, with a separate trail running down Colfax. In Hobart, construction to alleviate the gap in the Oak-Savannah should begin by September, Barloga said.
Husum said he and other fast-paced bicyclists use the trails more often in the winter when traffic is down. Fellow riders have discussed holding a fundraiser to help municipalities afford plowing snow from the trails.
“As far as us using trails in the summertime, it’s a great staple if it’s raining out, and you don’t want to be out on the road. But it probably gets pretty busy in the summertime, people with dogs and kids. It’s not really our place to be going too quick on that bike path,” Husum said.
Trail users also want more amenities along the bike paths, from basic necessities such as bathrooms and water stations to businesses becoming more integrated along the trail. Eric Mosak, of Crown Point, who uses the trails about three times a week, pointed to the Carmel area and the restaurants and shops near the city’s portion of the Monon Trail.
“Something like that is nice on the trail. A place to stop and eat and rest and meet people,” Mosak said.
Mosak said Crown Point should better route bicyclists from where the Erie-Lackawana ends at Main and Summit streets to the downtown area. Businesses could erect signs along the trails noting their proximity and offer bike racks and water to riders, Husum said.
“Around here, you have a lot of hot rods and classic cars. Everyone has a restaurant with a cruise night that brings in tons of people,” Husum said. “If I had a business along the bike path, I’d have a sign as an incentive for people to come over.”