It’s been in the pipeline for a good part of five years, but on Monday the
arduous efforts of several local, state and national agencies aligned to
mark the first day of construction for the Dunes-Kankakee Trail.
At the official groundbreaking ceremony, public officials, project engineers
and bystanders cheered as the first bits of earth were moved at “Mile Marker
0” for the trail -- the gates to Indiana Dunes State Park.
The sight was a hopeful harbinger for local environmentalist Herb Read, who
dreams of being able to use the trail at some point in his lifetime.
“It’s taking a little bit longer than I thought, but I hope to be able to
walk it someday,” Read told the Tribune.
First proposed in 2008, the Dunes Kankakee Trail was envisioned to link
Indiana Dunes with the American Discovery Trail that now enters the county
along the Kankakee River. The very first link of the trail will connect the
entrance to the Dunes State Park to the South Shore train stop on U.S. 12
and the Calumet Trail before making its way southward to the Dorothy Buell
Memorial Visitor Center near Ind. 49 and U.S. 20.
Staff from SEH Indiana said they expect the work to be complete in October.
The trail will be eight feet wide with paved asphalt. There will be trail
heads located throughout with wayfinding signage.
Matt Reardon, principal of SEH Indiana, who has worked as project manager,
said in his opening remarks that although the trail is started the future
will still be “a complicated process,” working with new municipalities at
each step of the project.
“There’s a long way to go,” he said. Each portion of the trail, he added,
could take years to complete depending if funds are available.
U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky, who was present for the ceremony, was quick
to agree “this is a complicated process” but the effort is justified as the
presence of trails improves the quality of life for residents, promoting
health and wellness and increasing their property values. Work will continue
with cooperation between local, state and federal governments, he said.
“Today is a terrific day. It’s been a privilege to work with all of you,”
Visclosky told the crowd.
Visclosky was instrumental in moving the project forward, procuring an
earmark of $500,000 in federal funds for the trail in 2009.
Porter County Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said the
county plans to continue work from the visitor center before it enters the
town of Porter. That section of work will be completed with a funding match
from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
The RDA has leveraged approximately $5 million in funds so far for the town
of Porter’s Gateway to the Dunes project and has committed a grant of $19
President of the Porter Redevelopment Commission and member of the Porter
Town Council Greg Stinson said there have been many discussions on where the
trail needs to go and believes it is “moving in the right direction.”
“It will serve the broader community quite nicely,” Stinson said.
He thanked Visclosky for supporting the Marquette Plan that will foster
sustainability and development and preserve the Dunes area for future
Others like Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission non-motorized
transportation planner Mitch Barloga and RDA Chief Operating Officer Sherri
Ziller touted the benefits of collaboration and said the trail is an example
of what happens when a vision is shared.
“This is really the definition of regionalism,” said Ziller.
They both mentioned the Dunes Kankakee Trail will hook into other
hiking-biking trails like Porter’s Brickyard Trail.
“You’re going to get connected to the beach in one fell swoop,” Barloga
As the next part of the trail development moves towards Porter, Stinson said
much of the heavy planning of how the trail will link from U.S. 12 and U.S.
20 on the town’s part is done. Residents will be able to use the trail to
get to the National Lakeshore, the State Park Little League, the new Seven
Peaks Water Park, Hawthorne Park and eventually downtown Chesterton, Stinson
said. Porter is also ready to break ground in the next few days on the
Orchard Pedestrian Walkway, he added.
Thompson said Valparaiso is busy with their connection plans but probably
the more challenging portion will come in creating the route from Valparaiso
down to the Kankakee River.
The trail’s other stakeholders include the Indiana Department of
Transportation, Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,
the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor’s Commission, Porter
County Parks, the City of Portage, the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy,
Save the Dunes Council, and the Department of Natural Resources Coastal