A half-mile extension of Fort Wayne's Pufferbelly Trail will connect more than 1,000 residents to dozens of nearby businesses and attractions, city officials said Thursday.
The extension will connect State Boulevard and Fourth Street and is part of an ambitious plan to create a regional trail system to connect Pokagon State Park near Angola to Ouabache State Park near Bluffton.
Mayor Tom Henry and other local dignitaries broke ground on the project Thursday morning.
He said the city's trails provide ways for residents to travel without cars, but they also are an important driver of economic development. Henry said businesses often weigh quality-of-life items such as parks and trails when considering where to locate.
“The investment we're making in our neighborhoods by connecting them with each other and with destination points is important, not only today, but for our future success,” he said.
Work on the nearly 0.6-mile extension is expected to be complete in June.
It and three other sections are part of a $10 million plan to add trails that will be paid for using money from the state's Regional Cities Initiative.
The sections will put nearly 23,000 residents within a half-mile of a city trail, according to a news release.
The segments will be part of the proposed State Visionary Trail to link the state parks in Steuben and Wells counties.
Kent Castleman, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails, said about 30 miles of the trail have been completed.
Dawn Ritchie, the city's greenways manager, said Fort Wayne has nearly 180 miles of trails used by about 550,000 people each year.
City officials plan to construct sections of the Pufferbelly Trail to connect neighborhoods and attractions such as Science Central, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo and Franke Park.
“Trails are truly an asset,” Ritchie said.
Fort Wayne Trails is asking for input about local trails.
The nonprofit advocacy group works with municipalities in Allen County. It launched a survey seeking opinions about local trails.
The survey will be open until April 8. It can be found at http://bit.ly/2DogYQf.
Data from the survey will be used to craft an advocacy plan. Responses will be shared with officials from Fort Wayne, Allen County, New Haven, Huntertown, Leo-Cedarville, Grabill, Woodburn, Monroeville and possibly others.
People who use trails and those who don't can contribute.