HANCOCK COUNTY — Local advocates of a proposal to extend the Pennsy Trail by connecting sections of the path between Greenfield and Cumberland are asking county officials and organizations for support to fund the first phase of the project.
Mary Ann Wietbrock, president of the Friends of Hancock County Pennsy Trail, approached the Hancock County Board Commissioners this week for support in purchasing privately owned land between county roads 400W and 500W.
Wietbrock said she’s received permission from the property owners on that roughly one-mile stretch of land, which lies south of U.S. 40 in the middle of the 4.5-mile gap from CRs 150W and 600W separating the Greenfield portion of the trail from the Cumberland section.
Purchasing that land, encompassing roughly 10 acres, will cost about $57,000, Wietbrock said. To stay on track with current plans for the extension and to qualify for time-sensitive federal loans, she said organizers need to raise that money by Nov. 1.
Wietbrock and other members of the trail group have applied for several grants from local organizations, including the Hancock County Community Foundation, Covance Laboratories, Hancock Regional Hospital and Sugar Creek Township. At Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, the trail group was awarded a $500 grant from the Indiana Trails Fund, a nonprofit supporting community greenways.
The organization will receive notice of whether or not it was awarded the other grants in weeks coming, Wietbrock said. After she finds out how much more is needed to fund the difference, she will return to the county commissioners with an official request for a loan, she said.
Wietbrock is also asking community members to make donations to the group through the Hancock County Community Foundation website, givehcgrow hc.com.
County Commissioner Brad Armstrong said he’s impressed with the trail group’s efforts to raise money for the project and gain the cooperation of property owners.
He’s reserving judgement until he finds out precisely how much of the $57,000 the county will need to contribute to fund the purchase, which doesn’t include the actual construction of the trail, Armstrong noted.
Still, he’d like to help out as much as possible, he said.
“I certainly have a desire to help with the project, but the other commissioners and I need to work through it as a board collaboratively to see what’s realistic,” Armstrong said.
County Commissioner Tom Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he’s in favor of the extension but doesn’t want to tie up funding that could be used for road improvements and other county needs.
If funded, the trail would be a selling point for businesses considering locating facilities in the county, Stevens said.
“Those kind of amenities are one of the things that a lot of those big companies are looking for when they’re considering moving,” Stevens said.
It would also be an asset for families, Wietbrock said. While some might be cautious about taking their children on a walk or bike ride along a county road — with motorists whizzing by — those wouldn’t be concerns along the trail, she said.
“It would provide a safe recreational place for them to spend time together, and people are always looking for useful green space,” she said.
The timeline for construction on the extension is still in flux, Wietbrock said, though she hopes to break ground on this stretch of the trail within two years.
If connected, the trail would extend 13.5 miles from Cumberland to Greenfield.
Armstrong said he and the other county commissioners will likely make a formal decision about whether or not to help fund the proposed extension at the next board meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. Oct. 20.