The town of Porter has been working hard for years to establish methods of alternative transportation for its residents and visitors and those efforts are finally starting to come to fruition. The Little Calumet River in Hawthorne Park has been cleared of debris for paddlers and boat launches and even boat rental services are in the future plans. Additionally, numerous bike trails are being extended and constructed around town, making Porter a great place for family recreation.
Matt Keiser, director of engineering and development for the town of Porter says that the beginning of August sees the start of the Porter Brickyard Trail, a bike trail that has been a long time coming. "The idea for this began in 2002 with a phone call from Congressman's Visclosky's office to the town of Porter asking if they would like a $50,000 Build Indiana grant to expand the Prairie Duneland Trail from Chesterton to the Calumet Trail," Keiser says. But those plans were delayed because of the involvement of many planners. He says, "We've been through multiple administrations who all were investigating different route alternatives and ways to navigate the highways and railroads that needed to be crossed, and this caused a delay. But the fruit of everyone's labor is finally harvesting. We're actually breaking ground and building the trail through the town of Porter."
The Porter Brickyard Trail will begin at the end of summer before school begins since some of the construction takes place in front of Yost Elementary School. "The trail starts at Wagner and Lincoln Streets and terminates at the Calumet Trail head at the Dune Acres entrance. This is a 3.2 mile bike trail. It is separated with a hard surface and it's been a long time coming," Keiser says.
Another trail beginning to take shape is the Dunes Kankakee Trail which will be Porter County's first north-south route. Keiser says, "We are currently engineering and designing the linkages between Hwy. 12 and Hwy. 20 with help from consultants SEH. INDOT is currently designing the trail from the South Shore north into the State Park and the county is engineering the section of the trail from Hwy 20 to the cloverleaf. SEH is also designing the trail from the visitor center into the downtown of Porter. The entire trail is funded completely for construction through the RDA."
The Dunes Kankakee Trail runs over the newly reconstructed bridges at Hwy. 12 and Hwy. 20 and Keiser says these projects were a case of serendipity. "When INDOT proposed rebuilding the bridges, the town was going through the RDA grant proposal process for extending the Gateway project. One of the components of the Gateway Plan was to extend the visual entrance of the dunes down S.R. 49 to I-94. The town in conjunction with the visitor center approached INDOT with the request to include additional infrastructure and improvements to their plans. We wanted to add aesthetic components to the bridge. We had SEH do a study of the area, look at different components of the historical elements of the parks and they designed that into a separate contract that could be built into the bridge. We formally asked INDOT to incorporate the trail across the bridges. They hadn't done it before but they were all on board, as long as the town paid for it and it wouldn't impact their time frames," Keiser says.
Today the bridges are complete. They feature a different-colored paint instead of cement color that is more of an earth tone, they have a guard-shack style monument on each corner as well as sconces, and there is a form liner used to include the Town of Porter's name on the bridge instead of the INDOT green road signs mounted on them. We were able to add decorative railing that's really pleasing to see," he says.