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Trail Blazers

Heritage Trail to link Madison community
via bicycle-walking path

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(May 2001) Madison, In– When Tom Pritchard was growing up in Madison, his childhood days with his friends were often spent hiking up the hill en route to the Madison State Hospital grounds. Today, Pritchard still lives in Madison and is spearheading a project to turn this childhood memory into a recreational trail for all to enjoy.

Tom Prichard & Karen Bump

Tom Prichard
& Karen Bump

After five years of planning and gathering funds, construction on the Heritage Trail is coming together for a fall opening.
The trail will serve the needs of bikers, hikers, walkers, runners and anyone else who wants to enjoy the natural scenery of Madison while exercising. According to Pritchard, an active bicycle rider, it will also serve as a safer haven on which to do such activities.
“I’ve always felt like the areas for riding bicycles were dangerous because the roads weren’t very wide,” said Pritchard. “This will allow kids the ability to ride down the hill safely.”
He added, though, that the trail will have benefits for all.
“It will connect tourist points as well as industry,” he said. “It is really endless where this could all lead.”
Pritchard is part of the core group that developed the idea in 1996. He now is president of Heritage Trail Inc., a project committee of Historic Hoosier Hills Inc. Historic Hoosier Hills is a regional resource, conservation and development committee based in Versailles, Ind. Pritchard is being helped on the executive committee by vice president Karen Bump, a Texas native; secretary Julie Rubio, a Chicago native; and treasurer Jim Olson, the county engineer. The committee is receiving consulting help on the trail’s design from the Schneider Corp., an Indianapolis engineering firm.
“Our common theme in engineering the trail has been safety,” said Bump. She emphasized the importance of users recognizing the importance of safety and using “trail etiquette.”
“Our brochure will give guidelines,” she said. “We’d like to stage some events in October that would reinforce safety and emphasize it.”
“The biggest thing is teaching the community how to use it,” said Pritchard.
The committee will have a lot of trail to cover, so to speak, in doing so. The construction process of the Heritage Trail has been divided into three phases. Phase One has already begun. Its starting point is on the northwest grounds of the Madison State Hospital, where it makes its way down the hill through a wooded area. The trail will come out at the bottom of the hill at the old Madison railroad tracks in the western portion of the downtown historic district.
The second phase is not yet confirmed, but preliminary plans call for continuing the construction on the hilltop past the Rucker Sports Complex and into a portion of Clifty Falls State Park.
Today, the Hoosier Hills Bike Trail runs along Green Road into the state park. The Heritage Trail committee has had many discussions with park director Daryl Skinner about connecting points of the trail with the park. The most logical plan would be at the Green Road entrance to the Hoosier Hills trail, committee members say. Nothing has been decided, particularly since admission is charged in summer months to people entering the park. Skinner noted that permits are available to cyclists at a lower fee than for those entering by vehicles.
Phase Three would continue the trail from the old railroad track. From this point, it will veer toward the river by going under the Main Street bridge and eventually divide into opposite directions. One side would take users west toward Rivercrest Marina. The other path would head east along the riverfront to the area where the new Madison Area Convention and Visitors Center and Interpretive Center will be located on First and Vine streets.
Reaching the point of construction has indeed been a long but successful haul for the Heritage Trail committee. Approximate cost is estimated at $2 million. Funding has come from the Build Indiana Fund, Federal Transportation Enhancement Groups and the Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails Program, with additional support from the Community Foundation of Madison-Jefferson County and Historic Madison Inc.
“We’ve made it a point to go above and beyond what we have to do to get the public’s support,” said Bump. “A lot of people have been very supportive of the trail. People want to see this happen.”
Indeed, many local groups foresee the trail’s presence as beneficial in many ways.
The future location of the Lide White Boys and Girls Club sits right next to the Rucker Sports Complex. Executive Director Ray Black Jr. said that the presence of the Heritage Trail on Madison’s hilltop factored into the decision to move the club to the hilltop.
“It will offer downtown members an opportunity to get from downtown to the hill,” he said. He estimated that more than half of the club’s members ride bikes.
Tourism officials and business owners have also expressed excitement about the trail.
“I think throughout the country people are looking for places to walk and enjoy nature,” said tourism executive director Linda Lytle. “Bicycling has been such a big tourism draw. We have a lot of people who come for biking.”
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for everyone – bikers, hikers, joggers,” said Sandy Thurman, a member of the Madison Bicycle Club. “It will provide easy access to ride downtown and then back up to the hilltop without having to put your life on the line and compete with the motor traffic.”
Elsewhere in the state, similar trails have a proven track record of benefits for both the community and tourists.
The Porter County Bikeway System in northwest Indiana has enhanced the recreational scene around the Indiana Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore.
“The trail takes you through most of the towns of this area,” said Kathleen Talenco, public relations director for the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission. “It has been great in pulling in tourists, but it has served residents as well. It enables people not just to go riding but to go riding through scenic areas.”
The nine loops of the Porter County Bikeway System connect parks, schools, country clubs, lakes and downtown districts. This multi-use trail accommodates not only bicyclists, but walkers, hikers and skaters as well.
Heritage Trail committee members have witnessed that discovery among citizens in Jefferson County.
“What we have found is that people are amazed with what a wonderful jewel we have right in the middle of town,” said Bump.
“As a city that is coming into a new millennium, there are many changes taking place,” said Pritchard. “This will be an alternate mode of transportation from downtown to the hilltop.”

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