Chesterton Tribune


County Commissioners commit to Calumet Trail upgrades

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The Porter County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday signed off on a request to move forward with a new engineering project for the Calumet Trail.

But the idea itself is not so new according to Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson who explained funding for the trail upgrades has been accumulating for a few years through various grant programs and commitments from local agencies like the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

Thompson went before the county commissioners to seek the last piece of the funding puzzle – worth $12,000 – to begin rebuilding three miles of the trail in the western portion from Mineral Springs Road to linking with the Dunes Train Station.

The consultant in the matter is SEH Inc.

The stretch of trail will be raised and coated with asphalt, which it was originally designed to be when initially established. The nine-mile pedestrian trail as it exists now has a crushed limestone surface.

In the new engineering, the trail will loop with the proposed Dunes-Kankakee trail that will run through the Town of Porter and the Gateway to the Dunes area on Ind. 49 which is being completed with the help of SEH.

The total costs for the trail project is approximately $2 million.

Earmarked is approximately $1.6 million in transportation enhancement grants from the Federal Highway Administration to rebuild the three miles of trail. The RDA will kick in $400,000 for grant money while the county will pony up a small share of its own.

Thompson said the project is a group effort and has support from the county tourism bureau.

The trail, Thompson said, will link the Indiana Dunes State Park with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It has the potential to connect to others such as the Prairie Duneland Trail and the Porter Brickyard Trail providing a five-mile network of access points to the Dunes by bicycle or by foot.

The commissioners also voted to renew the trail user agreement with Northern Indiana Public Service Co. for construction to occur. NIPSCO owns the easement on which the trail runs.

Covered bridge

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said this will also be the time to remove the “infamous” old covered bridge on the trail that has a long history of reported vandalism.

“I’ve been talking about it for many years. It’s going to be taken down,” he said.

The bridge crosses Brown Ditch near the Town of Pines, which is not in the area tagged for renovations. Thompson mentioned the County Parks Department, which serves as the managing body for the Calumet Trail, is in the process of removing the cover. In August, the Park Board hired Hasse Construction at $12,500 to dismantle the cover and ship it to Sunset Hill Farm Park.

The decking of the bridge will remain with further improvements made.

Public involvement

From the audience, local preservationist Charlotte Read of Liberty Twp. said she knows “a lot of people” have wanted to participate in the discussions of changes proposed for the trail in order to make officials aware of the natural resources – both animal and plants – that are part of the trail.

Just how the trail is engineered could greatly impact the wildlife by helping them or wiping them out, Read said. She said the trail has been known to be home to the massasauga rattlesnake and the spotted turtle that have reportedly been seen near the Dunes.

Thompson said “extensive public hearings” are planned for the project. Planners will facilitate a number of discussions and an environmental review will be performed by the Save the Dunes Council Executive Director Nicole Barker, Don Plath of the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association and president of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, as well as officials from the Dunes State Park and the National Lakeshore.

But Read said often when plans reach the public hearing stage, the planners already have stages planned. She prefers if the public be included from the beginning.

“It’s too late in my opinion,” said Read. “Some recognition is essential for the public good and rebuilding of this trail.”

Evans said he does feel the public should be involved in discussing how wildlife should be protected.

“Everybody is working for the same goal and that helps,” said Evans, who recalled conversations in the past when the trail was opened about conserving plant life.

Thompson added that some portions of the western section of the trail have seen serious drainage issues, which is the reason the trail will be raised.

“It’s the trail that holds the water, not the land,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the engineering portion will be done soon but the project does not have a set time for construction. He said work could begin in 2014.

Plans are to eventually cover the complete trail with asphalt. Thompson said he is still pursuing grant opportunities for additional funding.



Posted 9/19/2012