Making a Connection

‘Madison Connector’ aims to unite hilltop, downtown

Opening of Hatcher Hill to create pedestrian,
cycling ‘loop’

October 2016 Cover

(October 2016) – For too long, Madison, Ind., has been a tale of two cities. There’s the historic downtown, essentially stretching along Main Street, from the Milton-Madison Bridge to the Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp. power plant; and then there’s the suburban hilltop commercial district, spanning the length of Clifty Drive from Hwy. 421 to Hwy. 56.
But a project is under way to change all that and help bring the two into one – at least for pedestrians and bicyclists. The “Madison Connector” is the brainchild of a committee of volunteer citizens who have been working for more than a year as part of the America’s Best Communities contest. The project’s goal is to unite the community by connecting the downtown to the hilltop via Hatcher Hill, a one-lane, .08-mile road that has been closed to traffic since the mid-1980s. By upgrading the dilapidated road for use by walkers and cyclists, the committee hopes it can create a “loop” that will wind its way through downtown and connect to the Heritage Trail, an existing 1.5-mile, paved walking-cycling path that leads from the Ohio River to the Madison State Hospital grounds on the hilltop. Heritage Trail’s first paved section opened in 2002. Since then, the Heritage Trail Conservancy formed and through volunteer work, corporate donations and federal grants, the trail today offers users beautiful trip up and down the hill, with parking available at both ends.
But the Madison Connector project seeks to go one step further. It proposes a loop that will allow users to travel an entire seven-mile course, winding their way past historic sites and natural beauty, not only along the Heritage Trail but also along the Ohio River and up or down a renovated Hatcher Hill.

‘Try The Trail’ Day

• 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, on Hatcher Hill (previously closed to the public), Heritage Trail and Mulberry Street in Madison, Ind.

Parking: To get to Hatcher Hill, parking is available at the city street garage on North Walnut St. Parking also will be available in the city parking lot on Mulberry Street and on the hilltop at Johnson Lake on Cragmont Street or the trail heads of Heritage Trail.

Information: (812) 265-8300 (City Hall) or (812) 265-2956 (VisitMadison Inc.)

“It’s really beautiful up there. There is a large rock formation in one section and a steep ravine offering a beautiful view down below,” said Jim Olson, 66, a retired Jefferson County (Ind.) highway engineer and Madison resident who volunteered to head the Hatcher Hill renovation as construction manager for the committee. “When it is finished, I think people will really be impressed with just how nice it is along that road.”
He said some pavement has washed away and a safety fence is needed along a stretch of the road that has a steep dropoff. Old drain pipes also are being replaced, with some new ones added in other problem areas.
“We don’t have the money to do everything we’d like to do on the road right now, but if the city places high enough in the contest to win more money, perhaps some of it could be used to do more upgrades,” Olson said. Current work includes removing overgrowth of trees and bushes, light excavation, partial paving and improved drainage to certain areas, he said.

Photo by Don Ward

Hatcher Hill Construction Manager and volunteer Jim Olson poses beside one of the new drain culverts he helped create along the roadway in preparation to open the hill to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Olson admitted that many people already walk the hill unofficially, but it is technically closed to the public. Marci Jones and Mary Law are among those who have walked Hatcher Hill recently and both are impressed. In fact, Jones says she has already walked the entire seven-mile loop. “I think it is going to be great for the community when it’s done,” said Jones, 59, who works for VisitMadison Inc. tourism bureau.
Law, 60, added,” I think more people who live on the hill will use the Hatcher Hill when it is open. Right now, if you live on the hill, you have to drive down to the river and park to get to Heritage Trail to walk.”
Madison’s ABC team plans to spend up to $65,000 of the $100,000 the city won last spring in the ABC national contest be becoming one of only eight finalists. The other seven finalists in the competition include Chisago Lakes Area, Minn.; Darrington-Arlington, Wash.; Huntington, W. Va.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Statesboro, Ga.; Tulatin, Ore.; and Valley County-Meadows Valley, Idaho. The other seven finalists that did not advance in the competition each received $25,000 to help implement their plans.
The competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH, The Weather Channel, CoBank, and Madison’s corporate sponsor DST Systems Inc. It was launched in September 2014. In April 2015, Madison was named among 50 quarterfinalists, winning $50,000. Madison used that money to hire Ratio Architects to develop a Comprehensive Plan for the city. The plan includes the Madison Connector idea as part of it. Madison submitted the plan in the ABC contest in November 2015 and advanced to the semifinals in January 2016 when the final 15 cities were announced. The team presented to the judges again, this time in Durham, N.C., in April, and was selected as one of eight finalists. Madison is now the only remaining Hoosier city in the contest after being narrowed from more than 400 original submissions.
Grand prize winners of $3 million, $2 million and $1 million will be announced in April 2017.

Photo by Don Ward

A City of Madison employee picks up tree branches and brush along Hatcher Hill in preparation for it to open to pedestrians and bicyclists. The road has been closed to vehicle traffic since the mid-1980s.

The core of the plan was the Madison Connector, a way to involve the community and help improve the quality of life for local residents. The initiative to upgrade and re-open Hatcher Hill to the public is chief among the project’s goals.
But it does not come without overcoming some real challenges.
The committee is wrestling with how to safely route walkers and cyclists from the top of Hatcher Hill over to the beginning of Heritage Trail inside the Madison State Hospital grounds. There is no direct path and many of the streets in that neighborhood do not have sidewalks.
There are two main road crossings that must be addressed in making connecting the loop: crossing Michigan Road and crossing Hwy. 7 (Lanier Drive).
Another challenge is routing users from the bottom of Hatcher Hill to the other end of Heritage Trail located by the river on Vaughn Drive. The committee wants to do that by routing walkers and cyclists down Mulberry Street as part of a secondary initiative to upgrade that commercial area in the heart of the downtown.
To help involve the community, the Madison ABC team will give the public its first look at the newly improved Hatcher Hill on Sunday, Oct. 16, when the ABC committee holds an open house from 1-5 p.m. called “Try the Trail.” During that day, ABC team members plan to set up information tables at various points around the loop, including on Heritage Trail, to solicit input from the community on how best to route the path in those areas presenting safety challenges.

Photo courtesy of Jim Olson

A contract employee for the City of Madison removes rock and dirt to create better drainage along Hatcher Hill in Madison, Ind.

“We want to engage the community as best we can and we hope to do that with this ‘Try the Trail’ day; that’s one of the goals of the project and something that the ABC judges are looking for,” said Andrew Forrester, Community Relations Manager for the city of Madison and a member of the contest team.
Forrester explained that Madison Connector was conceived with many goals in mind, but primarily to unite the community. “Connecting the Madison hilltop to downtown was important because it is an issue that is largely unique to Madison. Not only is it a unique problem, but the hilltop-downtown divide creates not only a physical barrier but also a mental barrier between the two areas. If we can better connect hilltop and downtown, we can hopefully help bridge the divide not only physically, but also mentally so people think of ‘One Madison.’ ”
Valecia Crisafulli, director the local economic development group, Envision Jefferson County and an ABC team member, said she hopes “people will get out with family and friends to see the trail on Oct. 16. We hope the event will create awareness of what the trail is and experience it.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Olson

Hatcher Hill fell into disrepair over the past three decades since it closed. Once re-opened, it will offer pedestrians and bicyclists much natural scenery to enjoy.

She says trails like this one are part of the economic drivers that help communities. Crisafulli cites recent national studies showing that communities that are economically successful have great mobility for its citizens through trails such as this. “We feel like we are putting Madison right in the middle of this trend and to help us move forward to economically strengthen the community.”
Crisafulli and Forrester point to trails in large cities like Indianapolis that use walking trails to connect users to cultural attractions. She also said proper signage will help guide users of the Madison Connector safely around the loop, especially in those crossing areas with high traffic congestion.
“We have safety front and center of this plan,” she said. “The goal of good signage is also to help get motorists used to seeing pedestrians and cyclists in those areas.”
The Mulberry Street corridor also is a key component of the Madison Connector project.
In August, a consultant from Milwaukee was hired to lead a discussion of local residents and business owners about how to improve buildings along that street and to work with local officials to obtain grants for upgrades.
In fact, the Madison Main Street Program received word on Sept. 22 that it had been selected to receive a $10,000 “Downtown Enhancement” matching grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help fund Mulberry Street upgrades. Matching funds were pledged from the ABC team’s fund ($10,000) and the Main Street Program ($5,000), with the city to provide in-kind support.
As a result of those two meetings, the ABC team decided to create a “100-Day Calendar” to help put the community on track for real results in a given time. This development tool will be added to the final presentation that the ABC team plans to give next spring when it goes before the ABC contest judges for the final time.
Crisafulli and Forrester presented the Madison Connector plan to the inaugural Indiana Bike & Walk Summit in Indianapolis in late August. Forrester said their presentation was well received by the group, many of which were from large cities such as Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky. The summit was presented by the Indiana State Department of Health, Bicycle Indiana, Health by Design and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Crisafulli said she hopes the Madison Connector project will spur business development along Mulberry Street. “We’ve had wonderful cooperation from Mulberry Street business owners and others who live in that area of town.”
Crisafulli, who has used similar trails when she lived in Washington, D.C., has spent much of her career working with community development through the National Main Street Program. She called this project in Madison “one of the best I have ever been involved in. It’s been a great project to work with, and I’m very excited about where we are headed. I think it has brought the community together in a very positive way.”
Jones, who not only uses the trail already, also attended both Mulberry Street meetings and said the discussion was “very positive.” She said members of one of the competing communities in the contest came into the Visitors Center a while back and praised Madison’s project “as one of the best.” The visitor said, “Madison’s project blows ours away,” adding that the other community was focused solely on an economic development initiative to bring people into that town.
“Our project here in Madison is different because it is designed to improve the quality of life for the people who already live here,” Jones said. “I think it’s great, because whether we win or lose the contest, we’ll still have something that will be great and long-lasting for our community.”
Meantime, the Madison City Council unanimously approved the Madison Comprehensive Plan during its Sept. 20 meeting. The vote meant that the city legally adopted the plan, however, it does not bind the city to do the projects or to not change them later, Forrester said. “It simply provides a road map and guidelines for the community,” he said.
It is the first such plan the city has approved in 17 years, the last one being in 1999. Such a plan is necessary for the city to apply for major economic development grants like the Stellar Communities grant that neighboring cities have received in recent years.
“To see this project that we proposed come to light have an immediate impact on the community is personally rewarding and exciting for everyone involved,” Forrester said. “It has been a collaborative effort of many volunteers, with multiple meetings of our steering committee, two open house events and numerous meetings with stakeholder groups.

Ratio Architects took our ideas and distilled it down and clarified it into a cohesive Comprehensive Plan. It will be an important economic development and quality of life tool going forward, no matter how the ABC contest turns out.”

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