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On the right trail


A deal between a local developer and the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission to build a trailhead for the Pufferbelly Trail means the project will get done more quickly, include more amenities and cost taxpayers less.

Completing the trailhead also will serve as a major milestone in building the entire 80-mile trail, which will boost economic development opportunities and quality of life in the region.

The Redevelopment Commission is finalizing a deal to use money from an existing Tax Increment Financing district to reimburse RCI Development for the costs to build the trailhead on the north side of Fernhill Avenue near the Lutheran Health SportsCenter ice rink and Sport- ONE Parkview Fieldhouse. It will include a building with restrooms and drinking fountains as well as a large parking lot to accommodate both trail users and overflow crowds from the bustling sports venues.

“It’s a good deal,” said Greg Leatherman, executive director for the Redevelopment Commission. “Not only is it good for the city in all the ways that are obvious – more trails and access to recreation. But (the ice rink and fieldhouse) needed more parking to be able to host larger events that bring more people to Fort Wayne. Most of these tournaments are for people from out of town. This is Visit Fort Wayne’s dream come true, and the commission is able to facilitate that process.”

The entire Pufferbelly Trail, once completed, will connect Ouabache State Park in Bluffton with Pokagon State Park in Angola.

The trailhead is the entry to Phase 1 of the Pufferbelly, which includes a 2.6-mile stretch of trail connecting Headwaters Park to Fernhill Avenue. It will allow greater access to Glenbrook Square and serve as a link between the north side of the city and downtown. A spur connecting the trail to Franke Park and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is also planned.

The original plan called for the city to build the trailhead on the south side of Fernhill, but that location would have allowed only a small parking lot and a small pavilion.

There was no space for restrooms or drinking fountains. According to surveys, those are the things trail users need, said Lori Keys, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails.

The city will reimburse RCI Development up to $478,000 of the costs for the project out of TIF money that comes from the increased property taxes that new development in the district generates.

The developers have also agreed to maintain the entire facility, saving the city even more money.

Other phases of the Pufferbelly will extend the trail further north.

Counters installed along the trail system showed that more than 483,000 people visited in 2012. The counters also help determine where there is demand for more trails.

“We are seeing so much demand for this corridor,” Keys said. “We have so many anecdotal stories from people who move here and say what a big role the trails play in their decision to move here. It’s so much more than an amenity. It’s about the social fabric of our community.”

The partnership to build the trailhead will help keep the trail-building momentum going.