NEW PALESTINE — The first step in New Palestine’s newly approved trails plan is to create a safe route for walkers and bikers along Gem Road.
A $5.4 million master plan for 12.55 miles of paths through the town — a project to be completed in phases over 15 years — was recently approved by town officials.
A committee overseeing the project has identified small paths where construction will start, including along the well-traveled Gem Road.
Town officials have been exploring the possibility of creating bike and pedestrian paths for years throughout New Palestine, which currently lacks trails and paths for walking through town. Six months ago, they put together a 10-person committee and hired an engineering firm to study the issue and draft a plan. Both town officials and trail designers say establishing paths will help people travel through town more safely and promote healthier living.
The plan’s designers, Butler Fairman and Seufert Civil Engineers, have suggested it will take approximately 15 years to finish the project, which town officials say will be funded through federal grants and about $1.08 million of local money.
Jason Griffin, a landscape architect, said the committee has purposely created “low-hanging fruit” routes, which town officials can plan for when establishing the annual budget. Those routes would include areas small enough for town workers to handle the project so an outside contractor won’t need to be hired.
The work along Gem Road will connect to an already existing sidewalk along Stone Haven Lane south to New Palestine High School and New Palestine Elementary School, Griffin said.
Council member Larry Jonas said officials received good input from the community and feel positive about the final trail plan.
The plans do not include adding sidewalks or a shared roadway through the Countryside subdivision as was originally proposed. Residents in the neighborhood adamantly opposed being part of the project and, in the end, were left out.
Clint Bledsoe, town council president, said the engineers came up with a creative plan giving officials what they had asked for — a way to get residents out and around town in a safe way.
Now, officials must seek grant dollars to help pay for the plan and identify which routes can be built first. Griffin said creating a design was the first step, and now, town official have to raise awareness and educate residents about the importance of the plan.
To see the master trails plan, visit www.townofnewpalestine.org. Note: The Countryside subdivision has been omitted from the plan based on comments from residents.