Brown County will be gaining 7½ more miles of biking and hiking trails over the next three years.

The Hoosier Mountain Bike Association was awarded a $200,000 grant to build them through the state’s Next Level Trails program earlier this month.

All mountain biking trails are also open to hikers.

The grant allows for a continuation of a long-term plan by the HMBA, as the new trails will connect to other existing trails in the park, at Yellowwood State Forest and in Hoosier National Forest. The connections will make it possible to ride more than 100 miles mostly on trails, with a little bit of gravel and paved road riding, said HMBA President Paul Arlinghaus.

The new trails also hit another goal: expanding trails for beginner- and intermediate-level riders.

The new, 2½-mile Limekiln Return trail will make the existing Limekiln trail a loop for beginners, and connect the state park campgrounds, park office and Nature Center.

For intermediate trail users, the new 2½-mile Weed Patch and 1½-mile Hesitation Point East trails will allow longer rides while avoiding roads and expert-level trails, the grant application says. They will connect Limekiln to Hesitation Point, and connect the Discovery Trail, Friends Trail and Trail 8 for hikers.

Hesitation Point East also will create a loop that will reduce the heavy two-way bike traffic on Hesitation Point West, the grant application says.

The HMBA has been building this network in the park since 2003.

While some volunteer labor will be used to build these extensions, the grant money will enable the HMBA to hire professional trail builders, Arlinghaus said.

The Weed Patch extension is already under construction, he said last week. No trails will have to close as this work is being done.

The plan is to complete one new section per year, finishing in 2021.

When the Salt Creek Trail is eventually completed, this whole trail system could be accessed by starting in downtown Nashville, the grant application notes. The paved, multi-use Salt Creek Trail will enter the state park near the swimming area. Only one, three-quarter-mile section of it currently exists so far, between the CVS and the YMCA in Nashville.

The HMBA’s project was the only Brown County trails project to receive funding through Next Level Trails this year.

Arlinghaus believes these new trails will “certainly help” Brown County try to achieve silver-level Ride Center status. Brown County became a bronze-level Ride Center in WHICH YEAR.

Ride Centers are a designation given by the International Mountain Bicycling Association to let bikers know which are the “destination-worthy” places to bike, according to the group’s website.

“Bronze makes it more attractive to folks outside Indiana to invest their time in visiting here. Those are the people that will spend multiple nights here, spend money on food and entertainment, contributing more to the local economy,” Arlinghaus said. “… Riders can look at the list of Ride Centers and feel really confident … that they know they’re going to get a great experience.”

Ride Center ratings are not all about the trails; they’re also a reflection of how the surrounding community takes care of mountain bikers, such as having a bike shop, bike-friendly restaurants and lodging, camping options, etc., he said. “It’s someplace you can go to and know you can have a good experience on and off the bike.” The program gives a community “a checklist of things we should try to strive for,” he said.

Throughout the state, 17 communities received $24.9 million for 42 miles of trail projects in this initial round of Next Level Trails funding. The state is calling it “the largest infusion of state trails funding in state history.”

The second of three rounds of funding is expected to be offered later this year.

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