Jeff Ray stands between two distinctive sign mrking the Henry  of the Cardinal Greenway in Blountsville. The black sign at the left marks the site as part of the National Rail-Trail network. Staff photo by Darrel Radford
Jeff Ray stands between two distinctive sign mrking the Henry of the Cardinal Greenway in Blountsville. The black sign at the left marks the site as part of the National Rail-Trail network. Staff photo by Darrel Radford

Called the “granddad of long-distance trails in Indiana,” it’s a shame the 62-mile-long Cardinal Greenway can’t speak. Oh the stories this granddad could tell.

Tales ranging from the time Winston Churchill’s son was in the northeastern Henry County area would no doubt be regaled. Then there’s the more recent memory of how Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck used the smooth surface to get back in shape following an injury. Or how the trail literally saved the life of a Henry County man, Darrell York, helping him lose 100 pounds just by walking it regularly.

The old stone ‘W’ sign seen along the trail would be explained. There’d also be talk of more recent sights – bald eagles, a family of foxes and the wide variety of bicycles now seen here that would make even the Wright Brothers’ eyebrows raise.

A new national road

At the trailhead in the tiny town of Blountsville, more than just stories loom large. So do possibilities.

“It’s the backbone of Indiana trails, the longest one,” Healthy Communities of Henry County’s Jeff Ray said.

Point your bike east and you can ride all the way to Richmond. Go the opposite direction and you could end up crossing the restaurant-laden McGalliard Road in Muncie or ride all the way to Sweetser in Grant County. Plans call for the trail to take its users much, much farther in the future.

Before it was a footpath, Cardinal Greenway moved trains across the state.

Bicyclists Gerry Trout and John Dimitrofm, who ironically worked together at CSX Railroad, say they enjoy the new purpose given this former train track.

“It’s great recreation and you don’t have to worry about getting run over like you do sometimes on the highway,” Trout said.

On this day, the duo rode to Muncie. They’ve also ridden the other direction, toward Richmond.

Ray says there are plans in the works that could enable them to ride much, much farther.

“Cardinal Greenway is part of the Great American Rail Trail,” Ray explained. “The ultimate goal is to give users an opportunity to ride all the way to Washington, D.C. Or, if they decide to go west, to the Pacific Ocean in Washington state.”

There are 3.5 miles of the trail in Henry County that opened in 2007, which coincided with Henry County’s trail beginnings and its Raintree Trails Master Plan. About the same time as a $650,000 Indiana Department of Natural Resources grant landed here for the National Road Heritage Trail, another $3 million was provided to get Cardinal Greenway completed from Losantville to Richmond.

Blountsville resident and Healthy Communities’ board member Nancy Cook, who remembers when trains rolled through that part of the county, says the transformation is well-worth the state investment.

“I think of all the things they could have done with this,” Cook said. “The trail was the best decision they could have made.”

Cook has the unique distinction of walking here when the tracks and railroad ties lined the path. She remembers walking to her office job at the former fertilizer plant. Today, she still walks the same path and enjoys the fact that it’s much smoother than before. But memories reach out to her like branches of trees along the trail.

“This was still a railroad when we moved out here in 1976,” she said. “There was a fertilizer plant back there which was originally a Ford dealership and they brought in Model T’s. A lot of people would catch the train and go to Ball State.”

Famous visitor

Alongside colorful plants, diversified wildlife and native vegetation, legends also grow. It’s been reported that a famous visitor once walked in the Blountsville vicinity where the Henry County portion of the trail begins. Not for recreation, but out of frustration.

Cook called attention to a newspaper article written a few years ago by Chris Flook, then president of the Delaware County Historical Society and currently an associate lecturer of telecommunications at Ball State University. The article, part of his “By Gone” Muncie series, reflected on a Nov. 11, 1946 evening in which “two overwrought Englishman” were seen walking down Ind. 35.

George Kilmer, owner of Kilmer Car and Tractor Co. south of Muncie, greeted them to see if he could help. He learned one of the men was due to give a lecture at Earlham College in Richmond that evening when the vehicle’s left rear wheel suddenly flew off. Fortunately, the driver was able to maintain enough control to stop the vehicle on the road’s shoulder.

So Kilmer dispatched a tow truck to bring the broken-down vehicle back to his shop and then offered the man – who was to speak in Richmond that evening – a ride to Earlham College.

Because his passenger was said to have a distinct English accent, Kilmer asked, perhaps in jest, if he knew famous British leader Winston Churchill.

“Well, I should know him very well,” the passenger replied. “I’m his son.”

The passenger was none other than Randolph Churchill, as Flook described in his article, a “World War II British Army officer, former conservative member of Parliament, journalist and, yes, son of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.”

‘Luck’ along the way

Ray offered his own celebrity story about this particular trail. He said now-retired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was seen riding his bicycle on the Cardinal Greenway as he tried to bounce back from injury a couple of years ago.

“He could ride faster here,” Ray explained. “He couldn’t get it done on the Monon (the Indianapolis-area trail) because it was too busy and too many people knew him. So he came up here to get more miles in.”

A signpost up ahead

Cardinal Greenway offers more than just relaxation and recreation. It is a living history lesson as well.

Along the path, a large stone-carved ‘W’ can be seen. Ray explained the sign, chiseled during a time before railroad warning lights and automatic signals, was a reminder to the train engineer to blow his whistle because an intersection was up ahead.

Miles and ‘Miles’

While walking along the trail, Cook pointed to a farm scene worthy of framing. She said the picturesque area was once the farm of Miles Marshall’s grandmother ‘Julia.’

Marshall was publisher of The Henry County News Republican, a weekly newspaper in New Castle, and also served as county clerk.

“When Miles’ dad, Dr. Lloyd C. Marshall, was a very young boy, he would cut lumber on this farm, load it on a wagon and take it to Mount Summit,” Cook said.

Stories of families past share the scenery here with animal families present. Cook said she saw a mother mink with five little pups literally parade in front of her. She’s also seen foxes and a bald eagle.

Former Blue River Valley teacher Christie Fouse said she rides the trail “every chance I get.” She was one of several bikers on this day, but the bike she rode was an interesting looking three-wheeler.

‘Pool-ing’ resources

Angie Pool, chief executive officer of Cardinal Greenway, Inc., offered even more perspective on the trail.

“The Cardinal Greenway (CG) incorporated in 1993 when the land was purchased from CSX to build trail for all to enjoy,” she said. “Cardinal Greenway Inc. owns and manages the trail system. After years of love and labor Cardinal Greenway now boasts 62 miles of paved trail spanning five East Central Indiana counties.

“It has been awarded numerous awards and earned many designations,” she added. “The CG has long been designated an Indiana Visionary Trail and was designated a National Rails to Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame Trail in 2018, our 25th anniversary year. It was designated Indiana’s Stakeholder Trail in 2019 for the Great American Rail Trail’s route through our state.”

Pool was also awarded the Outstanding Trail Leader at the 2019 International Trail Symposium.

“We do not take these many awards and honors lightly,” Pool said. “The staff, Board of Directors and volunteers work continuously to raise funds to work on keeping the trail in the shape our thousands of annual trail users have come to expect. We have a challenging goal but are determined to keep the trail an award-winning feature for all to enjoy. It will take all of us though, so as you enjoy our trail or any trail take a moment to give back to the organization that works so hard to keep it usable.”

Past walks alongside future

No, Cardinal Greenway, the granddaddy of trails, doesn’t speak. He lets the birds do that for him these days. He also listens to the joyful noises, the grandfatherly talks, the determined running and pedaling as hundreds of people use the trail on a regular basis. People like Fouse and her husband, a granddad who takes grandchildren to a bridge over Stoney Creek so they can explore.

Popularity of the trail was put into perspective for Fouse recently. The woman who grew up in Blountsville said on one recent day, she passed as many as 90 people while riding her bike – young, old and every age in between.

Ninety people. That’s roughly 60 percent the size of Blountsville’s entire population, a snapshot in time that “speaks” volumes for the Henry County leg of the Cardinal Greenway.

© Copyright 2020, The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN.