This coming weekend, the inaugural Whiting Hammond After Midnight, or WHAM Ride, will take place.
The event seeks to highlight a number of off-road trails in Hammond – both old and new. Although over the decades the city has lost population and employment, a renewed emphasis on quality of life has permeated Hammond’s thinking and has given rise to enhanced economic opportunities.
For starters, the city boasts a number of excellent recreational outlets such Wolf Lake and Lost Marsh Golf Course. As further evidence of Hammond being a community-on-the-rise, one simply has to look at another important quality of life factor – trail miles. In the early 1990s, a dedicated community activist named Kathy Kazmierczak, supported by then-Mayor Thomas McDermott Sr., championed the first few miles of the Erie-Lackawanna Trail. This was an arduous affair and was approved by only one vote of the City Council. Due to Kathy’s dogged determination, the EL grew, and now represents the largest continuous trail in the NIRPC region at 17 miles in length, traversing six communities.
Years later, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. took hold of the vision to expand aggressively upon the network commenced by his father. In 2009, Hammond received $35 million in Regional Development Authority funding to update parks and construct several new miles of off-road, paved trail. This will complete a 5-mile loop trail around Hammond’s Wolf Lake. A new pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge also has been dedicated, linking to a recently completed trail network in neighboring Whiting.
In 2011, Mayor McDermott launched a new trail initiative along the abandoned Monon rail corridor from downtown to the Little Calumet River. Commencing at the EL Trail, the 2.5-mile trail runs directly south and eventually will bridge over the river to the existing Monon Trail in Munster. The new Monon Trail in Hammond has been paved and will be ready for business in time for the WHAM Ride this Saturday.
All of this activity adds up to some very impressive stats. Hammond has approximately 13.5 miles of trails. Within the next two years, that number is set to nearly double to approximately 25 miles – one of the best trail miles per population ratios in the state. Clearly Hammond’s rust belt has turned green, and cleaner, healthier days are ahead for its residents and visitors alike.
Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.