Today in Northwest Indiana, we proudly boast more than 130 miles of off-road, multi-use trail in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
Every year, on average, there are at least five to 10 additional miles of trail added to this growing list, and the demand for additional miles remains strong.
Communities such as Cedar Lake, Lowell, Winfield, Hebron and Wanatah have actively pursued plans to develop trail networks. Clearly, we are living in a venerable “golden age” of trail development in our region, boosting our quality of life in the process.
Getting to this point, however, took pioneering spirit in the midst of some of our darkest economic days.
Some 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, Northwest Indiana was witnessing the downturn in our steel economy, which had sustained our regional standard of living for nearly 80 years. At the same time, on a national scale, railroads were going bankrupt, leaving thousands of miles of abandoned corridors to decay throughout our communities.
Although the “rails to trails” movement was emerging, our region had yet to catch on, leaving us with only the nine-mile Calumet Trail along the Indiana Dunes, which in itself was little used and becoming overgrown with vegetation.
As the 1990s dawned, two individuals took command to launch our trail movement. In Hammond, a dedicated community activist named Kathy Kazmierczak, 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.
Because of Kathy’s dogged determination, the Erie-Lackawanna Trail grew, and now represents the largest continuous trail in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties at 17 miles in length, traversing six communities.
Meanwhile, Portage Park Superintendent Carl Fisher began to lobby his community to convert the abandoned EJ&E Railroad corridor into a multi-use trail. Using new federal money exclusively available for trail construction, Carl was able to secure funding to open up seven miles of the Prairie-Duneland Trail in Portage in 1996. The trail was eventually completed into Chesterton for a total of nine miles in Porter County.
Taken together, it is safe to say that Kathy and Carl are the “mother” and “father” of our regional trail network, and are owed a tremendous amount of gratitude for their vision to launch our golden age of trails that we so richly enjoy today.
For more information about our trails, including details on obtaining a free map of our regional trails, please visit the NIRPC website at www.nirpc.org. You are always welcome to contact me as well at email@example.com or (219) 763-6060 ext. 133.