With more than 100 miles of paved bike paths, the trail system that runs through Fort Wayne and surrounding areas has turned into a recreational bonus for residents and visitors.
Angie Quinn, community engagement manager for Fort Wayne Trails, said the system provides many benefits for the community, including a safe alternative for transportation, healthy opportunities for recreation, quality of life and an attraction that brings visitors.
Last year, 545,000 people took advantage of the trails, Quinn said.
“In comparison, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo gets about the same amount of visits as the Fort Wayne trails do,” Quinn said.
The trails are not only something to promote, but also to brag about, said Kristen Guthrie, director of marketing for Visit Fort Wayne.
“The trails along the rivers and through downtown have been very popular for our visitors,” Guthrie said, “and will only continue to grow as the riverfront is developed.”
The plan for the trails started in the early 1900s, when land architect George Kessler developed a parks and boulevard plan for the city. He wanted to connect different parks with green space, but at that time the city didn’t act on his plan.
But in 1974 a nonprofit organization, the Rivergreenway Consortium, chose to implement Kessler’s plan to construct the first leg of the Rivergreenway.
“In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, most of the Rivergreenway was built,” Greenways manager Dawn Ritchie said. “Then there was a wall where nobody was building trails.”
In 2004, Ritchie worked for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department before the city accepted her idea to move her post to the Department of Public Works.
Ritchie said being with public works is beneficial because similar responsibilities belong to the same entity. For instance, her department has civil and traffic engineers, its own sign shop and the experience of building roads and sidewalks. Bike lanes, sidewalks, roads and trails all come together, she said.
“I have seen more and more communities start to move their trail programs from their parks department to their pubic works,” Ritchie said.
After the program moved to Public Works, the planning to expand and develop the trails began.
Quinn said the plan focused on placement along the rivers so residents can reach natural landscapes.
In 2005, only 20 miles of trails existed in Fort Wayne. Today there are 107.5 miles, stretching through Allen County.
A map of the trails can be found at fwtrails.org.
Ritchie said building a trail is a lot more complicated than anyone can imagine, and the cost averages about $1.1 million per mile. The city of Fort Wayne receives money from the Legacy Fund, community economic development income tax, tax increment financing, Regional Cities funds, federal funds and donor dollars.
That includes engineering, environmental work, right-of-way acquisition and construction. If everything goes smoothly, it takes about three years to complete a trail.
“Something that has been surprising to me is how complicated it is to deal with the drainage,” Ritchie said.
Anytime there is change in the terrain, it affects the storm-water drainage. If the engineers are not careful and don’t plan, it can back up stormwater and flood, she said.
Ritchie said she sees the trails as an active transportation network in Fort Wayne, so it's important to take the time to plan and build the trails correctly.
Future plans for the trails are underway. Quinn said there is a regional trail project happening that will ultimately go from Pokagon State Park in Angola to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.
Ritchie said 30 miles of the trail has already been built, and it will take about an additional 15 years to finish. When completed, it will be the longest trail in Indiana – 81 miles connecting two state parks.
“There will be people from all over the country coming to try out the trail,” Quinn said.
“You build it and they will come,” Ritchie said, “I believe that is true.”