Boone County Commissioners were presented a recommendation to build the 3.5 mile section of Big 4 Trail between Lebanon and Whitestown along the former Big 4 railroad bed.
HWC Engineering was hired by the Friends of Boone County Trails to look at options for connecting the two areas. Tuesday, the firm made a draft of a recommendation to use the former rail corridor because it has the least impact of four other options considered.
“There are a lot of reasons, (including) safety and aesthetics,” Cory Whitesell with HWC Engineering said. “This is the lowest cost option and impacts the fewest property owners.”
In terms of safety, the recommended route has the fewest road intersections. Aesthetically, the trail would be in the countryside as opposed to along county roads. Plus, the history of the railroad path that Abraham Lincoln followed to his inauguration and then the funeral procession back to Illinois followed the former railroad.
Whitesell said the next step for the trail is acquisition of the land. Currently, the Indiana Trails Fund owns some sections of the trail. Three other parcels are for sale. However, Whitesell said acquisition of the remaining trail bed will meet resistance.
“We’ve provided some recommendations in this such as variations where, maybe, you can’t acquire the trail,” Whitesell said. “So, we’ve shown alternatives on how you can get it done in a number of places.”
The estimated cost of extending the trail through Boone County is $3.9 million. This could be cut with a grant from the Next Level Trails matching funds program announced by Gov. Eric Holcomb in December. Ninety million dollars has been made available to connect communities through more hiking and biking trails such as this one.
Boone County Commission president Jeff Wolfe said funding will be important as the commissioners and the council move forward with the recommendation.
“We’d like to find ways to fund it that are least impactful on taxpayers,” Wolfe said. “The second issue we have is acquisition of land. We want to make sure that the acquisition of land is done in a way that is sensitive to the property owners.”
Wolfe said a trail needs to be completed at some point in time, but it’s a matter of how and how long that are in question. He said the Monon Trail in Marion County took 20 years to complete.
“It’s not an easy process,” he said. “It’s not a quick process.”
He said that with this recommendation, the commissioners are going to be more involved in the process of completing the trail, but not at all costs.
“Personally, I’m not a fan of eminent domain for projects like this one,” Wolfe added.
The recommendation will be finalized within the next two weeks, Whitesell said.