by Mitzi S. Morris, Inside INdiana Business

The city of Evansville and the town of Santa Claus will receive a total of nearly $3 million in state grants to help complete trail projects in their communities.

They are among 14 projects across the state slated to receive a total of more than $31 million through the fourth round of Next Level Trails grants awarded by Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Wesselman Park Loop Trail

Evansville will receive $2 million to put toward its Wesselman Park Loop Trail. The total cost of the project is nearly $3.4 million. Bonds and American Rescue Plan funds will cover the remaining costs.

The trail project will add 2.6 miles of concrete path to connect Roberts Festival Grounds, Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve and the State Hospital Park. The new trail will also connect to the Walnut Street Trail, which allows access to the University of Evansville, downtown, the riverfront and the existing trail network.

Lorie Van Hook, executive director of the Evansville Trails Coalition, said the trail project aligns with the organization’s mission of continuous trail connections.

“You think of the hospitals, the elementary schools, the communities, the neighborhoods, the Promise Zone area, the high rail along [U.S.] 41. All of these different pieces within the districts are going to be connected through this corridor, which is amazing,” she said.

The trail project also has a greater purpose beyond leisure activities.

“What we’re working toward is not only for recreation, but people who choose not to own a car or choose to ride a bike or choose to walk to work or important destinations within their lives,” Van Hook said. “We want them to have mobility and have a safe, dedicated access way and trails provide that in an urban setting.”

Van Hook said the Wesselman Park Loop Trail should be completed within two years.

“Those are the grant rules from start to finish,” she said. “Which is exciting because then we’re not pushing this off into 20 years from now. This is something that we all get to experience very soon.”

The Evansville Trails Coalition has also been working on raising grant and partnership money to develop a trail system master plan.

“We’re kicking that off in 2024. We have all these different trail initiatives that are running concurrently and moving in the right direction at the same time,” Van Hook said.

Lincoln Discovery Trail

Santa Claus will receive nearly $800,000 in grant money for the fourth leg of the Lincoln Discovery Trail. One mile of paved trail will be built from Heritage Hills High School along County Road 1600 to Lincoln State Park and the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. The total cost of the project is slightly over $1 million.

“It was a good opportunity for us to work with the school corporation as far as giving us the right of way, and we were able to apply that right of way as a down payment as our percentage to match what we were supposed to put in,” said Kevin Burke, president of the Santa Claus Town Council.

The new trail will connect to several miles of natural-surface hiking trails at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Future plans include extending the trail to the existing path along S.R. 162 within Santa Claus and Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.

“We have a network of [trails] throughout the town now that people are using. With the tourism we have from Lake Rudolph and from the two cabin facilities, people will be able to get on their bicycles and ride uptown right into the national or state park,” Burke said. “This is one thing that we’ve been trying to work with to get people to move to the area or stay within the area.”

Burke said construction on the next section of the Lincoln Discovery Trail will likely start this summer.

“We have everything ready. We have our specs. All we have to do is go out for bid now,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s completed by October, November at the latest.”

The next trail projects in Santa Claus include the final leg of the Lincoln Discovery Trail and a new project in the industrial park area.

“We’re looking at putting a mountain bike park there. The Lincoln Discovery Trail would connect to it, too,” said Burke.

SOURCE: Inside INdiana Business

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