HANCOCK COUNTY — The Hancock County Council has agreed to chip in county funds to construct the first phase of the Pennsy Trail extension.
Gary Pool, the county’s highway department engineer, is helping the Pennsy Trails of Hancock County group (formerly Hancock County Friends of the Pennsy Trail), which is spearheading an effort to connect the trail between Cumberland and Greenfield, apply for a federal grant to construct a one-mile leg of the project.
And county officials have agreed to provide up to $200,000 of funding to provide a match for the grant if the organization can’t raise the money on its own.
Officials expect to submit the application next month. The grant money wouldn’t be available for five more years, but the county must agree to provide an approximately $200,000 match to apply.
The trail, formerly the Pennsylvania Railroad bed, runs just south of U.S. 40 and 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. The first phase of the extension project calls for construction of a walking/biking trail south of U.S. 40 between county roads 400 and 500W in New Palestine.
The trails organization has secured enough funding through a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and local donations to purchase needed land to complete the first leg of the project.
Organizers hope to finalize land acquisition by the start of the new year, said Mary Ann Wietbrock, president of Pennsy Trails of Hancock County.
The group also is in the process of creating a 10-year plan for the project and hopes to raise about $50,000 a year to fund the $200,000 needed to secure the federal grant, she recently told the county council. She didn’t give specific details about fundraising efforts. Last year, organizers were able to raise more than $40,000, she said.
“I can’t promise we will come up with $200,000, but actually, we want to come up with much more than that because this is only one mile,” she said.
Councilman Kent Fisk seemed apprehensive about agreeing to foot the bill for the match, saying the group might not raise the funds, leaving the county on the line.
“Just so everybody is clear, what we’re being asked is to guarantee the $200,000 if they don’t raise it. My only issue is what’s the incentive then (for them to try to fundraise)?” he said. “If they get the grant, and this lady goes home and doesn’t do anything, we still are stuck with the project.”
Commissioner Tom Stevens, who has been lobbying for the council to provide the match, said he sees the $200,000 as an investment for the county’s residents.
And without the council agreeing to provide the match, a grant proposal can’t be submitted.
“This is an important thing you’re being asked,” Stevens said shortly before the council approved the match.
Wietbrock said the organization plans to launch a major fundraising campaign, with many ways for individuals, businesses and groups to donate to the effort.
“You, right here, are making a statement to the county that you’re supporting trails and economic development,” she said.