Trails project gets big boost

HANCOCK COUNTY — A project aimed at connecting the Pennsy Trail between Greenfield and Cumberland just got a $130,000 boost.

Advocates of a proposal to connect two portions of the Pennsy Trail, making a 13.5-mile continuous path, recently received a grant through the Bicentennial Nature Trust program, which is awarded to organizations through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

The trail, formerly the Pennsylvania Railroad bed just south of U.S. 40, is currently broken into two sections: about six miles in Greenfield and three miles in Cumberland. The 4.5-mile stretch between County Roads 150W and 600W is currently unpaved and in the hands of private landowners.

The grant money puts the trails project within $14,000 of the approximately $300,000 needed to purchase 10 acres of land between County Roads 400W and 500W in New Palestine, said Mary Ann Wietbrock, president of the Friends of Hancock County Pennsy Trail, which is leading the charge to connect the paths.

Buying land along that one-mile stretch will be the first phase of the effort to connect both sections of path.

Wietbrock said she and other members of the group plan to brainstorm ways to raise the remainder of funds needed in coming weeks. In the meantime, she’s asking community members to make donations to the group through the Hancock County Foundation website,

Progress toward connecting the trail was welcome news for area residents like Nancy Tibbott, an avid cyclist whose New Palestine home sits close to the proposed location of the first segment of the extension.

Tibbott regularly rides along county roads but said aggressive and unaccommodating motorists pose a hazard to cyclists.

“Overall, trails are so much safer for bikes and pedestrians,” Tibbott said. “You don’t have to worry about crossing roads or riding past driveways.”

Wietbrock said she’s spoken to the property owners whose land is needed to make way for the new trail between County Roads 400W and 500W, and all of them intend to sell their property for the cause.

Once the land is purchased, which Wietbrock estimates will happen before the end of the year, she and other members of the group will coordinate with engineers and county officials to assess what it will cost to build the first segment of the extension. Wietbrock hopes to break ground on construction of the new segment in 2017, she said.

Throughout 2015, members of Friends of Hancock County Pennsy Trail collected more than $35,000 in donations for the project from several community organizations, including the Hancock County Community Foundation, Hancock County Tourism Commission and Hancock Regional Hospital, Wietbrock said.

Wietbrock has applied for another grant from the DNR that could be worth as much as $48,000. She expects to hear if the group is awarded the grant in coming months, she said.

The Bicentennial Nature Trust, established in 2012 through the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, seeks to conserve natural spaces throughout the state. Property purchased through the program becomes part of the “public trust” to ensure it is protected and preserved for future Hoosiers to use and enjoy.

Mark Becker, director of the Bicentennial Nature Trust program, said trail projects are important to communities. The longer a trail stretches and the more connectivity is has to other paths, the more it becomes a regional attraction, Becker said.

He points to the 60-mile Cardinal Greenway in Marion and the 20-mile Monon Trail in Indianapolis as examples of two paths that he said have become destinations for active Hoosiers.

“Those trails have really become destinations; we’d like to see more of them,” he said.

Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or