Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Regional cooperation celebrated at Dunes-Kankakee trail ceremony

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

While bikers and hikers may see the new part of the Dunes-Kankakee Trail as a way to get to and from the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to Indiana Dunes State Park, local officials see it as a symbol of the good that can happen when communities and government work together.

The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission hosted a dedication ceremony Wednesday at the Visitor Center for the link of trail connecting the state park, the visitor center, and the trails within the Town of Porter.

Speakers thanked the many partners on the project, particularly U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, who worked hard to get federal dollars for the project.

“We can have success when we set aside petty differences and do something that benefits everyone,” said Porter Town Council President Greg Stinson, who commended Visclosky for his vision in the Marquette Plan, which proposes investment in the Lake Michigan shoreline. “It’s possible you can have economic development and still protect natural resources. It’s not an either-or proposition.”

Visclosky told the crowd that trail development is a relatively new pursuit in government. In 1990, there were about 15 miles of bike trail in the region. Today, there are over 145 miles, Visclosky said.

In fact, before 1990 lawmakers had to “beg” communities to use federal dollars for trails and now the federal government can’t keep up with the demand, he said.

The idea for the Dunes-Kankakee Trail was hatched shortly after Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2006 held a trail summit where he proposed to build a system of trails throughout the state so that every resident would be within 15 minutes of a trail network, PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said.

The DK Trail’s next stage will connect with Chesterton, and Porter County will need to continue it past the Toll Road to make its way to Valparaiso. The County is to eventually take the trail down Ind. 49 to the Kankakee River, Weimer said.

Weimer said the trail was possible because of the rebuild of the bridges of U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 and she thanked the Indiana Department of Transportation for amending their plans to include pedestrian walkways.

Many interlocal agreements have been signed and many more will be needed as the trail continues, Weimer said.

Others thanked included the National Lakeshore and the Department of Natural Resources for allowing the trails on their property. Weimer also recognized County Planning Director Robert Thompson for getting the federal funding to complete the U.S. 20 portion.

Visclosky told the crowd it was their tax dollars that helped fuel the development of the trail.

“The money we pay is being invested in the future generations of Northwest Indiana,” he said.

The trail development would not be where it is today, Visclosky said, without the help of the RDA. RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said the RDA has been able to leverage $850 million since its inception and approximately 75 percent has been for projects related to the lakeshore.

The beautification of the lakeshore is important, Hanna said, because it has not only made it attractive but manifested a “quality of place.”

“It’s about feeling good about where you live,” he said.

Hanna said he thinks the DK Trail has generated the greatest collaborative effort he’s ever seen.

Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission Active Transportation Planner Mitch Barloga said the trail is “a wonderful testament of regional unity” and trails are known to grow local economies.

South Shore Line General Manager Mike Noland said the trail will bring more people from Chicago to visit Northwest Indiana with South Shore passengers now able to bring bicycles onto the train.

Trail users can ask themselves if they want to go to Washington D.C. or San Francisco as part of the American Discovery Trail network, said Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Paul Labovitz.

Labovitz, whose background includes trail development, said the DK trail will expand the area’s visitor season. “This is another great reason to live, work and play here,” he said.

Construction of the DK Trail by SEH Inc. began three years ago starting at Dunes State Park. Park Manager Brandt Baughman said he was happy to count eight people using the trail in under a mile at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s being used. It’s being loved,” Baughman said. He added he’s impressed by the number of people involved in planning the trail being that “it is hard to keep people interested so long, especially on a daunting task.”

Visitors may rent bikes Thursday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., from Pedal Power Rentals which opened last week inside the cul-de-sac of the Visitor Center. Those at the dedication ceremony were offered bike rental free of charge for the day.

Chesterton’s turn

Chesterton Town Council member Jim Ton said the Town is eager to get its part of the trail ready, but it needs to find the money to do so. To continue, it will also need to work with the County on getting access in certain areas.

“We certainly are glad to see (the trail) get this far and we look forward to doing our part when we can get the funding. But we are at the door,” Ton said.

 

Posted 7/21/2016

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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