Fort Wayne Trails has received a grant from a national group in support of construction of a portion of the Pufferbelly Trail.
The Washington, D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has awarded $20,000 toward a proposed trail stretch from West State Boulevard to Fernhill Avenue.
When the 1.6-mile trail is finished, bikers, hikers and walkers will have direct trail access to Franke Park and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, said Kent Castleman, executive director of Fort Wayne Trails, a nonprofit organization that works with local, state and national government agencies to link the region’s trail-based thoroughfares.
Castleman said the funded portion of the trail runs along a right-of-way just west of Lima Road and includes a short extension to the park.
The project was one of five funded nationwide from 166 applicants for the conservancy’s 2016 Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund grants.
According to a conservancy news release, the money is earmarked for projects to help kick-start trail development, make significant trail improvements and bring trail concepts closer to reality. The money also can be used to match existing state or federal funding, the news release says.
Castleman said he believes the local project was funded because it fit well with the conservancy’s mission – converting old railroad corridors for modern recreational uses.
The trail is named for a steam locomotive and runs along what had been a rail corridor from Fort Wayne to the Michigan cities of Jackson and Saginaw.
The portion being funded also advances the Indiana State Visionary Trail Project, which foresees an 81-mile trail from Ouabache State Park in Bluffton to Pokagon State Park in Angola, Castleman said. About 22 miles of that trail has been built, he said.
The funded stretch ultimately "connects to all of Allen County and the region. That made this a preferred thing to have happen because they (the funders) wanted a significant project. They didn’t want something solely local," Castleman said.
The trail from State to Fernhill will be built over a utility upgrade finished last year by City Utilities. Construction of that and the trail extension to the park and zoo should begin in 2017.
The city of Fort Wayne is managing the trail project, with a federal grant providing about 80 percent of the construction money. The rest is being financed with local dollars from the city and Fort Wayne Trails, including the conservancy grant, Castleman said.
Construction on a Pufferbelly trail stretch from Fourth Street to State also should start in 2017 with local funding, he said.
As designed, the Pufferbelly will cross under North Clinton Street at the bridge over Spy Run just south of State. The trail will continue on an overpass created in coming years through the proposed State Street Improvement Project.
Access to this leg of the Pufferbelly will be through the neighborhood on sidewalks for the time being, Castleman said.
Castleman said he hopes the grant will draw attention to the Pufferbelly. Additional funding is now being sought from the Northeast Indiana Regional Cities Initiative for the sections of trail that received the grant, he said.
"We’re trying to show that this could truly be a regional project that is needed for the area to grow," he said.
The existing stretches of the Pufferbelly are well used, Castleman said, especially a stretch from the north side of Wallen Road to the Parkview YMCA.
That stretch continues, with a short break at West Dupont Road, to Payton County Park north of Hathaway Road. An underpass for the West Dupont Road crossing is proposed to be built around 2019. A stretch of the Pufferbelly just south of Wallen remains mostly undeveloped.
The number of people who use the Pufferbelly is not available, Castleman said. In 2015, 408,000 people used at least one part of the Fort Wayne Trails system, he said.