WINAMAC — Officials hope the 1,000 tons of stone they’re laying on a dirt path in Winamac will pave the way for more walkers and bike riders at the town’s schools.

Volunteers are working to extend the Panhandle Pathway a mile north into Winamac, so students can use it to safely walk and ride their bikes to and from school.

The Panhandle Pathway is a 22-mile trail that runs from Kenneth, near France Park, to just outside Winamac. The extension would take the trail to Superior Street in the town, said Tom Anspach, a member of the Friends of the Panhandle Pathway.

Dave Bennett described Superior Street as an important connecting point between the trail and the school campus to the east. Kids use Superior Street to cross U.S. 35 to get to school, he said.

When it’s finished, the extension will become part of Winamac’s first designated safe route to school.

Bennett is the chairman of the Safe Routes to School task force, which recently received $75,000 to study how many children locally walk or ride their bikes to school.

“There’s very, very few,” he said. “Not even the ones who live close to school.”

The task force is working to design a series of routes that will hopefully get students moving more — whether it be walking or riding their bikes, Bennett said.

“If we can get the kids to do it, they’ll get their parents out there, too,”

he said.

The Panhandle Pathway will be an integral part of all of their routes, Bennett said.

The newest addition to the trail almost didn’t happen, though.

The one-mile tract of land crosses four properties, and the landowners weren’t interested in parting with their parcels, Anspach said.

He said he thought the owners might have been pressured over time by some community members to sell it. People want the trail extended into town, he said.

Eventually all four property owners agreed to sell. The Panhandle Pathway bought the land for about $80,000, Anspach said.

It was perfect timing, too, Anspach said.

“It was looking like we were going to have to give some of the money we got from a Major Moves grant back to the state,” he said.

The grant expires at the end of the year.

Instead, that money was used to buy the land, grade it and buy stone that will be laid on the path.

Anspach said 1,000 tons of stone were needed to complete the extension. Some of it was donated by a company in Francesville.

Initially the path will just be covered in stone, so it can be opened as soon as possible, Anspach said.

“We won’t be able to pave it yet,” he said. “We don’t have enough money left for that.”

Anspach said he hoped the extension could be finished before the end of the year, but that will be contingent on the weather.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “Everybody will love it.”

Bennett agreed.

“It will be a showpiece for the community,” he said.

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