By the early 1900s, Chicago was well established as the premier railroad hub for the Midwest. These railroads helped build a majority of our Northwest Indiana municipalities. However, by the 1980s, about half of these railroads were abandoned due to an increased reliance on truck traffic. Seeing the opportunity to convert these unbroken corridors into non-motorized facilities, a national "rails-to-trails" movement was born.
Nowhere has this movement seen such progress as in our region. Since 1990, Northwest Indiana has grown from just under 13 miles of multi-use trails to now just more than 80 miles in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. Furthermore, about 50 miles have been funded for development within the next five years. The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission has been promoting a map of proposed trail corridors that boast of a potential 500-mile network, mainly using abandoned rail corridors.
Our trails offer us the opportunity to explore our region, and in turn appreciate its intrinsic beauty and rich history. The 17-mile Erie-Lackawanna Trail runs from downtown Hammond through the historic downtowns of Highland and Griffith, to only a few short blocks from the historic courthouse square in Crown Point. Along the way, the E-L connects with the 10-mile Little Calumet River Levee Trail and a popular loop route around Wicker Park in Highland.
The nine-mile Oak Savannah Trail begins at the Oak Ridge Prairie County Park in Griffith and runs unbroken through Glen Park in Gary and into downtown Hobart. It is an extremely beautiful route, though densely forested areas and over Lake George. You would never know you are traveling through an intensely urbanized area.
The 11-mile Prairie-Duneland Trail runs through Portage into the Chesterton/Porter vicinity. This route is lined with parks and an abundance of natural beauty. It is well-maintained with a number of key destinations along the way. This route will soon be connected through Porter via its Brickyard Trail to the Calumet Trail -- the oldest trail facility in our region. Although suffering from flooding, the Cal Trail will soon be paved in asphalt all the way to Michigan City. This will connect to the future Singing Sands Trail to Washington Park.
Under development are the Pennsy Greenway in Munster and Schererville, the Dunes-Kankakee Trail from Indiana Dunes State Park to the town of Porter, and the C&O Greenway in Merrillville. I encourage you all to discover our great trails this summer. Please visit www.nirpc.org/transportation/nonmotorized.htm for where to ride and what's on the radar. Happy trails!
Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.