I continue my look at the trails both old and new that can be found all across Indiana. The Nickle Plate Trail is one of the longest in Indiana. It is 44 miles in length and runs from Kokomo to Peru then on to Rochester. It is paved and is open for walking and those who enjoy an extended bike ride. To make old railroad right-of-ways into trails, you must have the support of a lot of people and the owners of the land where the track being considered is located.
Sometimes there is local opposition, such as in the beginning of the Pumpkinvine Trail in northeastern Indiana. Some owners of the right-of-ways have other usage of the land in mind than constructing a hiking trail. In at least one site it was found no one knew who did own the land and it wound up in court.
One way to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted is what is known as rail banking. This helps preserve an unused rail corridor for future use as part of a trail system. This began in the 1980s when many of our railroad companies hit an extended period of hard times, went out of business and abandoned their rail lines.
The old Nickle Plate Company dates back to the mid-1800s. Its real name was the New York, Chicago and St. Louis, with the aka of Nickel Plate.
For several years it was the main passenger line from Indianapolis to Chicago. As with many railroad companies it eventually had money trouble and turned into the Norfolk Southern. By the 1990s the rail line was no longer in operation and was abandoned. As three rather vibrant cities, Kokomo, Peru and Rochester, were along the old railway, what better use than to make it a hiking and bike trail.
A group of concerned citizens, which came to be known as the Friends of Nickel Plate, was created. While the first meeting of this new group was in January 2000, there was lots of talk, but little action. Now that they had the right-of-way, how could it be turned into a proper trail? The rails must be torn up and old bridges repaired before anyone could use them. The list of problems was long and varied. Finally in 2004 the group applied for a grant from the D.N.R. Division of Outdoor Recreation to help in the construction of the trail.
To obtain this grant, matching funds must be obtained. Where would the money come from? The group was not sure what support they would receive, but in a week’s time the needed $37,500 was raised.
This was just the start for this first grant only covered 3.3 mile of track pavement and work on six bridges. A lot more had to be accomplished before this long trail would be completed. Much of the work on the trail was done by willing volunteers and from help by local groups. After a long hard struggle, the Nickel Plate Trail was completed and open to the public.
After the Cardinal Greenway in east central Indiana, the Nickle Plate is now the second largest railroad line trail in Hoosierland. As many as 250,000 hikers, walkers and bikers use this trail each year. When you get good groups going and when funding becomes available, more good things can happen.
Long term plans are in the works to connect the Nickle Plate and the Cardinal Greenway and make over 100 miles of trail possible. Trails are in vogue now. It seems new ones are either in their early stages or are contemplated all the time.
Indiana has progressed in really a short period of time from a state with few public trails to one that has them all across our state. It takes people wanting to get something done, money, and lots of volunteer labor, but good things do happen when we all work together.