ANDERSON — In the Muncie area, 250,000 folks use Cardinal Greenway each year for biking, walking, running and communing with nature.
In the Jeffersonville area, near the Ohio River Greenway, more than a million people traversed the Big Four pedestrian bridge during 2014.
Anderson and Chesterfield could be next in line for a heavily used greenway, if a plan by the Hoosier Environmental Council comes to life.
The HEC had partnered with the local Friends of the White River to lobby against the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir, which is — at least for now — stalled after town councils in Daleville and Yorktown voted in September not to join a commission to guide the project into a third phase of study.
As a counter to the $450 million reservoir project, the HEC dusted off a proposal for a greenway to be constructed to follow the White River, linking Anderson to the Cardinal Greenway network in Delaware County.
The HEC estimates the initial cost of the “Mounds Greenway” from $15 million to $40 million, with additional annual upkeep fees not yet calculated.
Most of the money would, potentially, come from grants, according to HEC officials. The council’s website lists potential funding sources, including the Indiana Heritage Trust, the Bicentennial Nature Trust, the Recreational Trails Fund, Farm Bill conservation programs and land trusts, as well as private foundations.
The Mounds Greenway is so named because of the proximity of Mounds State Park and the Great Mound earthen structure created by Native Americans thousands of years ago.
The greenway would stretch 20 miles from near Edgewater Park in Anderson to the White River Trail in Muncie. The White River Trail connects to the Cardinal Greenway in downtown Muncie. Adding the Mounds Greenway, the network of paved trails would meander 109 miles through east central Indiana.
“I think the recreation potential is phenomenal,” said Allan Henderson, Madison County Council of Governments planning manager. “An off-road trail of that nature certainly provides a little bit of privacy and added safety because you don’t have all of the interaction with traffic and vehicles.”
Biking in vogue
People of all demographics ride bikes, regardless of financial status, age and other factors, said Ben Orcutt, owner of Buckskin Bikes in Anderson.
About 66.72 million people had ridden bikes in the United States in the past 12 months as of the spring of 2015, according to The Statistics Portal. The number of cyclists nationally has risen gradually. In spring 2008, about 47.16 million people had ridden in the previous 12 months.
“There’s been a shift,” Orcutt said. “People don’t want to be as dependent on their automobiles as they have been. They can’t afford it or maybe they simply don’t want to.”
The city of Anderson recently added bike lanes on a 0.7-mile stretch of Columbus Avenue, and the city boasts multiple bicycle routes, including the almost 19-mile loop on streets around the city, the Lenape Trail.
But Anderson doesn’t have a bike trail system that connects to Muncie and other cities. Mounds Greenway proponents want to change that.
Mounds Greenway started out as a dream in the 1990s. With the proposed Mounds Reservoir on the shelf, there’s renewed interest in the idea.
Traveling a long path
Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the HEC, noted that, while the controversial reservoir project shined a new light on the Mounds Greenway concept, the proposed trail is far from being a sure deal.
“I think the added attention is good for the greenway,” he said. “Not withstanding the failure of the reservoir; the greenway is going to have to stand on its own.”
In mid-October, Maloney announced that the Hoosier Environmental Council would commission an economic impact study, which will take from three to six months. The study will assess visitor needs, visitor spending and health and environmental benefits of the proposed Mounds Greenway.
If the study indicates the greenway would have significant benefits at reasonable costs, the project could move ahead — slowly.
“This is going to take some time to do it, and we want to be sure we have solid community support behind it,” Maloney said. “That’s going to be key to making that happen.”
Costs could vary, particularly the cost of acquiring land for the greenway. The HEC, Maloney said, would eschew eminent domain in favor of purchasing land or conservation easements used to preserve nature by reaching agreements with land owners.
Some conservation easements require that the land not be paved; however, in this case, the HEC, or whomever acquires land for the greenway, could reach an agreement with the owner to allow paving of the trail, Maloney said.
“There is no blanket restriction on what sort of trails may be allowed on lands protected by a conservation easement, as long as the trail doesn’t conflict with the conservation values that are being protected by the easement,” he said.
Henderson is concerned that land acquisition considerations could stall the Mounds Greenway proposal.
“Currently, the river runs through all private property and against the back of private property,” he said. “To get the trail, they are going to have to be able to go through those.”
He raised concerns that the greenway would have to “flip flop” across the river and that restrooms and other facilities might be difficult to site near the trail.
“It’s an exciting possibility,” Henderson noted. “I just think there needs to be a lot more discussion with how it happens.”
Protecting the river
The Mounds trail would be called a greenway because it would connect parks and conservation areas.
According to renderings of the potential trail, nearby parks would be Rangeline Nature Preserve and Mounds State Park in Anderson, Walbridge Acres Park in Chesterfield, David E. Shellabarger Park in Daleville and Morrow’s Meadow in Yorktown.
Maloney acknowledges that resurgence of interest in the Mounds Greenway came as a response to the Mounds Lake proposal, which would have dammed the White River in Anderson to back up water and create a reservoir that would have reached seven miles to Yorktown, covering 2,100 acres.
“I think the virtue of the Mounds Greenway is that it, first and foremost, protects the free-flowing White River, which is the central, natural feature of east central Indiana,” Maloney said. “By doing that, you’re also creating an opportunity for economic opportunities and economic development that is compatible with protection of the river.”
A trail not just a trail
Mounds Greenway would be different from other trails in Indiana, but two of the most comparable are Cardinal Greenway, with its depot in Muncie, and the Ohio River Greenway, with its main trailhead in Jeffersonville.
Angie Pool, chief executive officer of the Cardinal Greenway, said greenways can serve as a getaway, despite running through towns. The Cardinal Greenway crosses several busy streets, including the high-commerce area of McGalliard Road in Muncie.
“You’re in the city, but you feel like you’re in the country,” Pool said.
The Cardinal Greenway, a rail-to-trail project, follows the old CSF railway; Mounds Greenway would follow the White River.
The Cardinal Greenway was born in 1993 with the purchase of most of the railway from Marion to Richmond. The trail has a gap of about 12 miles between Gaston and Marion, where some of the railway was purchased by people who opposed the greenway. Along that stretch, the “trail” follows paved roads.
Cardinal Greenway officials still hope to bring Gaston and Marion together on a dedicated paved trail, Pool said.
“Our vision and our hope is to somehow close that gap,” she said. “It will probably be a different path, but that’s in our strategic plan.”
If Mounds Greenway is privately owned as a nonprofit, as Cardinal Greenway is, project planners would rely on willing sellers and conservation easements.
Even though the Ohio River Greenway is owned publicly, eminent domain was not employed.
Grants were used to fund both the Cardinal and Ohio River greenways. The Cardinal Greenway cost $13 million in the early 1990s, and the Ohio River Greenway cost around $42 million.
The rest of the money for Cardinal Greenway came from private donors, which can lead to complications, said Shaunna Graf, project manager of the Ohio River Greenway. She noted it can be difficult to keep donors happy, given that they all have opinions about what the trail should offer.
Funding demands don’t end when the trail is completed; it takes money to maintain greenways, as well. Cardinal Greenway requires from $500,000 to $800,000 for upkeep annually.
The Ohio River Greenway itself doesn’t have a budget for annual upkeep, but it is up to local city governments to maintain it, Graf said.
Cardinal Greenway, because it isn’t publicly owned, relies on volunteers for trail maintenance. Pool said the greenway has enough volunteers, about 450 total, to keep it looking nice year round.
Path to completion
The first segment of the Ohio River Greenway was laid in 2003, a decade after the Ohio River Greenway Commission officially formed. Today, the greenway still isn’t completed.
Plans are under way to add more in New Albany to the 7.5-mile southern Indiana greenway, which will take it from about 60 percent to about 90 percent completed.
The tourism benefits are more than worth the long process, Graf said. The Ohio River Greenway has the added attraction of the Big Four Bridge, which connects Louisville and Jeffersonville.
Graf can’t put a figure on the economic impact, but she said Ohio River Greenway officials are open to a university studying the economic value of the greenway.
With recent renovations and the connection to the Ohio River Greenway, the bridge, which is closed to motor vehicles, is used by about a million people a year.
Businesses have grown in New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville around the added tourism of the greenway, according to Graf.
Widows Walk Ashland Park Ice Creamery in Clarksville is an example.
The owner changed his business to include ice cream options that would be more appealing to on-the-go greenway users. He started renting bicycles, as well, and it revived his business.
Cardinal Greenway has sparked commerce in Muncie, too.
The Island, a tropical-themed restaurant touting smoothies and Caribbean jerk chicken, is located off McGalliard — but you can reach it via only the greenway. Patrons park at the nearby trailhead and cross a bridge to get to the attraction.
The Island is closed during the winter, but Cardinal Greenway is open all year, even though the trails aren’t plowed when it snows.
Pool has seen a greenway impact that runs far deeper than economic development and conservation.
“They’re out there improving their own health by walking or running or riding their bikes on the trail,” she said. “If lifestyles have improved within the city, your community is healthier.”
Madison County ranks low in overall health compared to other counties in the state, according to Indiana INdicators.
Madison County is 79th out of the 92 counties when it comes to health outcome, which is based on how long people live and how healthy people feel.
The county ranks even worse, coming in at 81st, when it comes to overall health behavior, which measures four areas: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic conditions, and physical environment factors.
The proposed Mounds Greenway would help address some of these concerns while drawing people together, according to Orcutt and others.
“As a citizen of the community, I think this inter-connectivity is so positive,” he said.