Two new trail sections that opened Monday provide users access to downtown and attractions including Science Central and the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo.
Segments of the Pufferbelly Trail funded in part by the state's Regional Cities Initiative also provide a path for the city to economic development, officials said Monday.
“Through the Regional Cities Initiative, northeast Indiana is investing in its long-term future through targeted projects to enhance culture, connectivity and livability for Hoosiers,” Indiana Economic Development Corporation President Elaine Bedel said in a statement. “These new segments will support the region's efforts to retain and attract top talent, advancing northeast Indiana on its Road to One Million residents.”
The initiative provided funding to regional groups for development and redevelopment projects. Nearly $2 million in Regional Cities money was put toward $10.3 million in trail construction that included the segments opened Monday just east of Wells Street, across from Franke Park Drive.
The new sections stretch 2.2 miles and run from West Fourth Street to just south of State Boulevard and from north of State Boulevard, where the road branches off to the zoo and Fernhill Avenue. About 1,900 residents and 200 businesses and organizations are near the trail, according to the city.
Fort Wayne Trails Inc. gave $100,000 to fund the section from State to Fernhill and the zoo.
Mayor Tom Henry said at a ribbon-cutting the project improves quality of life for Fort Wayne residents but also is a lure for businesses to set up shop.
“More and more businesses are asking, 'Do you have a trails system, and how mature is it?'” he said. “We can step up and say, 'Yes, we do.' There's so many advantages to having this kind of investment. It's definitely something we're committed to.”
Four trail segments – including three sections of the Pufferbelly – are planned as part of the proposed Poka-Bache Connector that would run 81 miles and link Pokagon State Park in Angola with Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.
Dawn Ritchie, the city's greenways and trails manager, said Fort Wayne has about 100 miles of trails.
“Our trail network is bringing people together,” she said.
Patricia Treat and her 20-month-old pocket pitbull, Brandi Wyne, were together Monday afternoon as dozens gathered to open the new sections of the trail. Treat said it was her first time on the trail.
“We can't wait to come back,” she said.