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Trail updates proposed

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"The trail is an awesome asset to our community," said Ellen Kuker, director of the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. "We're just trying to take it to the next level and get some points of interest to continue to get people to come back and use the trail." (Daily Reporter file photo)

GREENFIELD — The Pennsy Trail in Greenfield could be enhanced with art, exercise equipment and features for families under a new improvement plan.

City and nonprofit officials are trying to decide what to do with a master plan to spruce up the trail with features they say will please regular users and bring new visitors to the path.

“The trail is an awesome asset to our community,” said Ellen Kuker, director of the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re just trying to take it to the next level and get some points of interest to continue to get people to come back and use the trail.”

From new landscaping to fitness stations to murals on the downtown grain elevator, Kuker realizes the goals are ambitious, but she’s pleased there’s now something on paper to start seeking private or nonprofit partnerships.

“We are open to anything at this point,” Kuker said. “Because this hasn’t been done before in our community, there’s no set equation to follow. We’re open to ideas in our community as to how to accomplish some of these goals.”

The plan is the brainchild of an organization that formed last year. The Pennsy Trail Art Group brought together the city parks department, Hancock County Arts Council and other interested residents to discover how to bring new features to the trail.

The first project was “Art,” a 10-foot steel statue of a walking man. The group placed Art in various locations and festivals throughout the city last year to gain interest, and now the statue has a permanent home on the trail downtown.

Another walking man statue was added last fall by friends of Clark Ketchum, the city’s former parks director. This year, a third sculpture, called “Journey,” was added to the trail near Pennsylvania Street. Journey was donated by Paul and Linda Hart.

Kuker said these pieces are just the start. Chain-link fence art could be added to enhance blighted areas along the trail; the old grain elevator could be spruced up with mural wraps; or permanent chalk art could be placed along the trail.

She said not everybody will like some of the choices.

“You either love the walking man or you don’t get it, but either way you’re noticing it,” Kuker said, adding that the more art that is placed along the trail, the more interest the project will generate locally and regionally.

Connie Schmidt, president of the Hancock County Arts Council, hopes the plan can be implemented because it will draw people to the trail.

“It definitely draws interest, not only for those in the community, but when those outside of our community or county look for things to do on a nice, beautiful day… If they hear about that kind of thing along the trail, they’ll check it out,” Schmidt said.

But art is just one part of the plan. An obesity task force was implemented by Hancock Regional Hospital officials, and this spring a 5K walk raised money for exercise equipment along the trail. Kuker said the group has yet to reconvene to decide what can be purchased and where it will be placed, but the plan calls for four to six fitness stations spaced along the trail so people can stretch, strengthen and build cardiovascular health.

One of the most exciting aspects of the plan, Kuker says, is so-called “pocket parks.”

Focused on literature, agriculture or the environment, pocket parks would provide play equipment for children, along with educational panels and benches where families could relax. A pocket park could, for example, have large toadstools for children to climb on and a sign explaining what real toadstools are.

“That’s going to engage children in a healthy activity, and the pocket parks have the opportunity to also provide an educational component,” Kuker said. “To me, that’s a pretty well-rounded component of the plan.”

The plan also calls for some minor improvements to aspects of the trail already in place. The butterfly garden at a bend in the trail on the  Covance campus could be enhanced with more plantings and benches, for example; a sculpture and benches could be added to the section where Greenfield Sister Cities planted trees earlier this year.

The plan goes hand-in-hand with improvements made to the rest of downtown Greenfield, said city planner Joanie Fitzwater. A downtown revitalization plan calls for improved building facades, a Riley Literary Trail, pedestrian-friendly plazas and more. Fitzwater said a planned downtown park would be adjacent to the Pennsy Trail, and features along the Pennsy would match what she envisions for the future of Greenfield.

Ultimately, if the Greenfield trail can connect to Cumberland’s Pennsy Trail, she added, it could bring more commerce and business to the community. The trail would be a quality-of-life feature to enhance economic development, she said.

How to connect the two trails remains uncertain, however, as funding options are stagnant. But Kuker said at least for now, a plan to bring new, interesting features to Greenfield’s trail would be a step in the right direction.

“It’s a little daunting, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.

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