GREENFIELD— It happened so quickly.

Community leaders, learning of an opportunity for $25,000 in grant funding, looked around and decided to work together instead of competing for the cash.

Stakeholders from across the county had gathered to learn more about a one-time grant opportunity from the Hancock County Community Foundation. Minutes after the announcement, an idea began to spread. Community leaders would jointly apply for the grant to fund a project that would benefit them all: a study on connecting the county’s various walking paths into a safe, interconnected trail system, said Greenfield zoning administrator Joan Fitzwater.

And that teamwork paid off: Monday, county stakeholders learned they were the recipients of the Celebrating Communities grant, which commemorates the community foundation’s 25th anniversary.

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Cities and towns countywide have long worked independently to build trails – with recent examples including efforts to connect the Pennsy Trail from Greenfield to Cumberland and to connect the bike path in McCordsville to the Geist Reservoir – but until recently, there hasn’t been much collaboration, said Andy Ebbert, Shirley Visionaries director.

Ebbert hopes bringing a consulting firm on board to create an overarching vision is a step in that direction.

The committee overseeing the project selected Indianapolis-based Butler, Fairman and Seufert Civil Engineers to serve as consultants on the project. The firm will work alongside Health by Design, an initiative of Indianapolis nonprofit Alliance for Health Promotion, to create the trail plan, Fitzwater said.

The firm will examine existing trails and identify places where connecting paths could be built based on population and traffic in the area, Ebbert said. In addition, the group expects the firm to set the standard for future construction, including what kind of materials the trails could be made from so all paths will be uniform, Ebbert said.

Residents are equally eager to see the plans. Dwayne Caldwell of Greenfield walks the Pennsy Trail several times a week. If the trail system envisioned is anything like the Pennsy Trail, it’ll be a good thing, he said.

“It’s nice and level, we’ve never had any safety problems,” he said. “There’s always someone walking their dog or walking, and it’s nice to exchange pleasantries.”

Town leaders have different ideas about what they want and hope consultants can shape them into one plan that works together. Shirley and Wilkinson leaders would like to build a trail connecting the towns, since the road between them, County Road 700N, is too narrow to ride a bike along, Ebbert said. New Palestine recently crafted a trails plan but doesn’t currently have any walking trails outside of its park system, said clerk treasurer Becky Hilligoss.

Hancock County officials have a head start, because they already have created a rough map of proposed trails, and the firm will be able to build on that progress, Ebbert said.

Officials with the group also plan to host forums seeking public input.

The grant was intended to encourage collaboration among nonprofits. It was rewarding to watch the process unfold just as organizers had hoped, with various entities finding common ground, said foundation president Mary Gibble.

“It has been an overwhelming and wonderful show of collaboration,” Gibble said. “We shared our vision for the grant, and the conversation came organically from the opportunity.”

The Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation serves as the sponsor for the project, Gibble said.

Amanda Everidge, the hospital’s Healthy Community manager, said hospital leaders hope to be part of a project that creates not only a healthier, more active community but a safer one.

Hospital leaders remember Theresa Burris, a local woman killed by a passing semi trailer last July, while riding her bike to work along U.S. 40, and Carla McCloud, 23, who died in 2015 after she was struck by a drunken driver while riding along County Road 300S.

“Our hope and vision is a way for any person to get to any community in Hancock County in a safe, easy way,” she said.

The cost of hiring a consulting firm is expected to be between $80,000 and $100,000, Fitzwater said.

The Hancock County Tourism Commission put $25,000 toward the effort earlier this year.

Project organizers plan to reach out to county businesses for support, said McCordsville town manager Tonya Galbraith. Many businesses in the community support the promotion of walking and biking trails, she said.

The remaining cost of the project will be split equally among the seven municipalities involved, which are: the cities of Greenfield and Cumberland and the towns of McCordsville, Fortville, New Palestine, Shirley and Wilkinson, Fitzwater said. Township trustees have also been invited to attend meetings about the project; the next meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 15.

Who's involved

A collaborative project among county cities and towns to create a trail connection plan received the $25,000 Celebrating Communities grant from the Hancock County Community Foundation. Here’s the list of entities involved:

  • Hancock County
  • Hancock Regional Hospital
  • Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation
  • City of Greenfield
  • City of Cumberland
  • Town of Fortville
  • Town of McCordsville
  • Town of New Palestine
  • Town of Shirley
  • Town of Wilkinson
  • Township trustees

Funding the trail plan

Hiring a consulting firm to put together the county trail plan is estimated to cost between $80,000 and $100,000, officials said.

The group has received $25,000 from the Hancock County Tourism Commission and a $25,000 grant from the Hancock County Community Foundation.

Those involved plan to seek donations from local businesses supportive of the project, and the remaining cost will be split equally among the seven municipalities involved: Greenfield, Shirley, Wilkinson, New Palestine, Fortville, McCordsville and Cumberland.

Businesses interested in donating may contact Hancock Regional Hospital healthy community coordinator Amanda Everidge at 317-468-4231 or aeveridge@hancockregional.org.

 

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.