NEW PALESTINE — Meg Niehaus envisions a future where the county’s trails can accommodate everyone.
She sat an orange sticker next to a group of photos on a display board to show she wants to see larger, multi-use trails one day.
“It’d be nice to have a trail wide enough so bicycles can go faster and runners can go faster and we can still walk,” the New Palestine resident said.
Niehaus was one of more than 50 area residents who attended a Hancock County Trails Plan open house designed to get input from the community.
It is one of four such gatherings slated by a steering committee, which is seeking input from residents in Greenfield, Cumberland, New Palestine, McCordsville, Fortville, Shirley and Wilkinson.
Trails plans are expected to be approved this summer.
Cumberland has more than 6 miles of trails. Leaders there said they think more residents east of town would use their trails if the path connected to other trails in Hancock County. Right now the Cumberland trail that heads east, parallel to and south of U.S. 40, ends at Mt. Comfort Road.
“From a community standpoint, it would be great for all of us to be connected,” said Christine Owens, Cumberland’s assistant town manager.
The aim of the open house, where visitors could talk with trail planners, was to bring to life an idea years in the making — to have biking and walking connections between and within communities throughout Hancock County.
Mike Dale, steering committee chairman, said the open houses will give project leaders an idea of where trails should go and what they should look like.
“It’s an amenity that the people living here want to see and people coming to the community want to see,” Dale said.
Dale, who lives in New Palestine and also serves as Hancock County planner, said he thinks trail connectivity will serve people who love the outdoors and physical activity.
New Palestine leaders expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s what everyone is looking for,” said Jan Jarson, a New Palestine town council member.
Jarson said she likes seeing the communities in the county coming together and cooperating on a big project.
Funding for the comprehensive trail plan is secure, Dale said, after receiving pledges from various groups, including the Hancock County Community Foundation, Hancock County Tourism Commission, local school districts and local businesses.
Cost to construct the trails is another matter. He said it’s too early to even guess at that, because there are too many variables still undecided. Each community will have a say on what type of trail it plans to install.
Costs also will vary depending on details and timing, Dale said. Some portions of the trail could be funded by developers and builders who come into the County.
“Usually that’s pretty well accepted by developers who realize that’s their contribution to the community,” Dale said.
The steering committee will gather the feedback and adopt a proposal in August then present a final plan to the Hancock County Commissioners before individual communities approve plans.
The final open house took place at Greenfield Creative Arts Center, Thursday, March 1. People who missed the sessions can share input through a survey at hancockcountytrailplan.com.