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The Journal Gazette

Monday, August 27, 2018 1:00 am


A trail blazing

Four-county corridor offers health, economic benefits

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The signs of a thriving community may be bright and bold, like a new office building or a refurbished shopping area. Or they may be slender and quiet, like the key section of Fort Wayne's Pufferbelly Trail that opened last week.

The 2.2-mile stretches of trail run from the north end of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge to just south of State Boulevard and from north of State to Franke Park and the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo and Fernhill Avenue near the Glenbrook area. Trail users will have to cross State at Westbrook Drive until a trailbridge is constructed.

“Our trail network is bringing people together,” Dawn Ritchie, the city's greenways and trails manager, told The Journal Gazette's Matthew LeBlanc. She said there are now about 100 miles of trails in the city.

Pufferbelly runs along what was once the New York Railroad line and is named in honor of the steam-engine locomotives of the past. It is part of a much larger project called the Poka-Bache Connector that is partly underwritten by a Regional Cities Grant.

The connector is an 81-mile, four-county string of north-south trails that will eventually run from Oubache State Park in Bluffton to Pokagon State Park in Angola.

The new sections will eventually link with an existing portion of the trail stretching from north of Ludwig Road to a trailhead near Life Bridge Church at Corbin and Union Chapel roads, with a trail underpass now under construction at Dupont Road. The Salomon Farm Trail loops off the Pufferbelly near the Parkview YMCA.

This could mean a lot of healthy fun for a lot of hikers, joggers and cyclists on a crisp autumn afternoon. But by improving the quality of life in Steuben, DeKalb, Allen and Wells counties, the trail system also could mean economic development – attracting new businesses and workers and persuading more of our young people to stay in northeast Indiana.

The Pufferbelly extension that opened last week offers a few more steps along the way.