WATCH NOW: Three NWI communities win nearly $6M in state grants for new trails
The network of paved trails that link together people and communities throughout Northwest Indiana is poised to grow ever larger in the months ahead.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday three localities in Lake and Porter counties bested dozens of competitors to win a share of the $30 million available in the second round of Indiana's $100 million Next Level Trails grant program.
The Northwest Indiana grant recipients are the city of Crown Point, $3 million; Portage Redevelopment Commission, $2.5 million; and the city of Valparaiso, $364,500.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the Crown Point project involves two segments of new, paved trail: A 1.2-mile stretch of the Pennsy Greenway from Clark Road to the Erie Lackawanna Trail at White Hawk Golf Course; and a 1.64-mile extension from the Veterans Memorial Parkway Summit Street trailhead southeast to Sportsplex Park.
Crown Point Mayor David Uran said he's grateful to Holcomb and the Indiana DNR for funding important community projects, adding to the city's quality of life, and helping Crown Point continue "building a stronger community from within."
In Portage, the new 0.88-mile trail will close a gap in the Marquette Greenway system between the Ameriplex Business Park and Burns Harbor by constructing an asphalt trail and boardwalk through part of Indiana Dunes National Park, including a pedestrian bridge over Salt Creek.
The 1.45 miles of new trail in Valparaiso will be built of concrete along the south side of Vale Park Road and the west side of Froberg Road, filling gaps in the city's trail system and improving neighborhood connections to Valparaiso High School and local parks.
Mitch Barloga, who is informally known as the "Trail Czar" at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said he was "absolutely ecstatic" over the Next Level Trails grants awarded to Region localities.
"It is a phenomenal testament to the passion our communities have for our trails," Barloga said. "They probably represent the best quality of life amenity that any community can invest in. We've been seeing just tremendous trail growth throughout the state and this region for many years, and it's just seemingly going exponential at this point."
Holcomb said improving connections really is what the Next Level Trails program is all about.
To that end, the Republican said he's proud the Crown Point project supports the development of the 12-state Great American Rail-Trail Route and the Portage segment fills a missing link on the trail from Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan.
"These projects are a transformational investment in quality of life for communities across our state and a valuable tool for economic and tourism development," Holcomb said. "We are creating important connections that take us one step closer to becoming the most trail-friendly state in the country."
DNR Director Dan Bortner said the trails and parks across Indiana have seen unprecedented usage over the past 12 months due to Hoosiers seeking more local recreation opportunities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Demand for trails has never been higher, and we are excited to partner with local governments and non-profits to build these important community assets," Bortner said.
Applications for the third and final round of Next Level Trails grants are expected to be available to Indiana municipalities in November, with new grants awarded in early 2022.
In addition to the nearly $6 million provided to Northwest Indiana communities in the second round, Schererville, Burns Harbor and Hebron in 2019 landed approximately $5 million for trail construction in the first round of state grant awards.