FORT WAYNE – Pouring rain and heavy gusts of wind may have killed some official speeches, but it did not dampen the joyous mood of the many who showed up to celebrate the new Wabash and Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
The rain and wind kicked up just as Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry was about to speak at trail pavilion near Engle Road and Statesmans Way, and everything came to a halt as musicians scrambled to protect their equipment and others ran for shelter in a nearby tent. Speeches were forgotten or crumpled up and thrown away, and officials simply mingled and talked with attendees in the crowded tent.
The Towpath Trail spans 5.5 miles between the Lutheran Hospital campus and Rockhill Park, where it links to the Rivergreenway and downtown Fort Wayne. The trail follows the historic Wabash and Erie Canal corridor and weaves through southwest-side neighborhoods, scenic marshlands and areas of commerce.
The Towpath Trail is open to walkers, runners and those on bikes, in wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
It includes a two-acre portion featuring public art sculptures, interpretive signage and an outdoor classroom for neighboring Eagle Marsh.
The 5.5-mile section of the Wabash and Erie Canal Towpath Trail completes 50 connected miles of 66 total miles of Fort Wayne Trails that connect continuously across Allen County.
Trailblazers can now travel from New Haven to downtown Fort Wayne and head west to Lutheran Hospital and beyond, north to IPFW or south to Tillman Park.
Future expansion of the southwest side of the trail will extend beyond the boundaries of Allen County toward Huntington, said Lori Keys, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails.
Henry and Allen County Commissioner Linda Bloom rode a Model-T bicycle to the ceremonies – but did not manage to beat the rain – arriving just as it started to pour at the trail pavilion. They were joined by Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, Joe Dorko of Lutheran Health Network, Steve Wesner of the Robert Goldstine Foundation and many other community partners, including Keys.
Hector Garcia, an avid bicyclist as well as the artist who designed the main sculpture, said he created the two-sided sculpture to represent the beautiful ecosystem of the Little River Wetlands.
One side of the sculpture depicts various people roller skating, running and bicycling as well as elements of nature to engage the senses of those on the trail, Garcia said.
The other side includes raised impressions of the different forms of wildlife that can be found in the region, with identity nameplates that are also in Braille.
Garcia also included the modes of towing that have been used along the Wabash and Erie Canal, including canoes, canal boats and the railroad.
Future projects include the completion of construction along Covington Road and Johnny Appleseed Park to Shoaff Park Trail (by 2012) and continued development of the Pufferbelly, Cougar and Six Mile Creek Trails, according to Keys.