Editorial: State push for recreational trails is a smart way to boost economy

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An explosion in the development of recreational trails across Indiana through the state’s $150 million Next Level Trails program holds great promise in improving Hoosier health, spurring economic development, boosting property values, and creating the kind of amenities that will attract talented workers.

Just last month, Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Department of Natural Resources announced 14 more recipients as part of the fourth round of Next Level Trails grants, providing a combined $31.2 million that will support 28 miles of new trails.

Among the biggest recipients are the Fall Creek Greenway in Lawrence and the Marquette Greenway, which will each receive $5 million. As Inside INdiana Business reported, other projects receiving funding include the Vision Trail Phase 1 in Randolph County and the Poka-Bache Trail in Steuben County

Local communities also have to have some skin in the game, providing a match of at least 20% that can include monetary contributions, land value or in-kind donations of materials and labor. This helps to guarantee community buy-in and puts the projects on the path to success.

When it comes to state-funded trails, however, the big kahuna is the South Monon Trail Project, which the governor last year announced would receive $29.5 million in state funds.

Construction began last summer on that trail, which will span more than 62 miles from New Albany to Mitchell and connect Floyd, Clark, Washington, Orange and Lawrence counties. It promises to become a cherished community amenity, offering dramatic views of farmland, forests and nearby state parks and recreational areas, and introducing visitors to the charm of small-town restaurants and shops along the way.

In Indianapolis, we already know the tremendous economic impacts of trails, thanks to public-private partnerships and the philanthropy of the Glick family.

According to a study by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, neighborhood connections and amenities spurred by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail boosted nearby property values 148% from 2008 to 2014, and businesses along the trail reported increased revenue and the creation of more jobs. And now the trail is expanding along South Street and Indiana Avenue.

The Monon Trail, which runs from East 10th Street in Indianapolis north to Carmel, Westfield and Sheridan, has had a similar impact on its neighborhoods. Carmel this week announced a $13 million expansion of a key part of the trail through its Midtown, widening a 0.2-mile stretch from 14 feet to 140 feet. Work also continues on the Nickel Plate Trail and the Pennsy Trail.

Actually, the list of new trail projects, planned expansions and related amenities seems almost endless. Their positive impacts have been proven repeatedly.

Holcomb, the Legislature and local leaders clearly know a good thing when they see it. And the development of trails plays perfectly into the governor’s vision to create appealing communities that will attract talented employees and encourage companies to locate and grow in Indiana.•

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