Trails in Indiana

Farm Heritage Trail: Progress Continues

Farm Heritage Trail near Lebanon. Photo by Guido Maregatti“Farm Heritage Trail” is the overall title for a possibly 50-plus-mile north-south corridor that will stretch from Zionsville, near Indianapolis, to Lafayette. Some sources also want to target the north terminus for Prophetstown State Park, northeast of Lafayette where the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers merge.With connections coming from Indianapolis, in addition to possible links with northern Indiana, Chicago and Michigan, this route may eventually tie trail users into an even longer hike or ride opportunity.

Projects for funding are ongoing in several sectors. Late last year the main support group, Friends of Boone County Trails—submitted initial paperwork for environmental statements to the Boone County Commissioners. This step is necessary in order to apply and/or receive government funding to purchase property on the proposed route, specifically, for the Lebanon- Whitestown-Zionsville segment.
 
In addition, a more recent funding quest involves entering a video piece in an awards competition, sponsored by Pepsi, to win $50,000. Partnering with Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, which produced the project, the Friends group submitted a short video. The potential prizemoney could be used to acquire a five-mile portion of the FHT from Colfax to Thorntown.
 
The Farm Heritage Trail, as its name suggests, allows excursion through major Indiana agricultural lands, but travel along the FHT will also include small-town attraction and an ongoing restored prairie ecosystem at the trail’s north terminus, if that location is in the park. The original plan for this trail included trailheads in Lebanon, Hazelrigg, Thorntown, Colfax, Clark’s Hill, Stockwell, North Crane, and Lafayette. Trailheads are currently located in Zionsville, Thorntown, and Lebanon.
Besides uses for walking and bicycling, the trail also includes equestrian miles, though, like the non-horse trail, part is completed, but much is still on paper, and/or in process.
Both pathways currently have several segments that are open, some under localized names. From south to north, the usable portions include:
~ The Nancy Burton and Zionsville Rail Trail—3 miles, asphalt
~ Lebanon to Thorntown—ten miles, crushed limestone and asphalt
~ Keewasakee Trail—Thorntown, 1.5 miles paved from downtown Thorntown to the Sugar
                 Creek Bridge.
~The McKinsey Walking Trail—Colfax, .5 mile unpaved. This is th segment featured in the
                 recent video produced by Hoosier Rails to Trails Council in order to help raise funds to build
                 a five-mile segment here. The McKinsey is the “talking trail” in the video.
~Lafayette Linear Park—this is an open portion of about two miles.
~There is an open equestrian segment southeast of Lafayette.
~Another equestrian segment of four miles stretches from Serum Plant Road southward in
                Boone County, recently cleared. Another one-and-one-half miles is planned for clearing here,
                 to County Road 400.
 
So far, then, almost 20 miles of bike and pedestrian pathway are available for use. The Friends of Boone County Trails reports that the abovementioned portion between Lebanon,Whitesburg, and Zionsville is currently in process, and will make up another ten miles. To more greatly appreciate the significance of the Farm Heritage Trail, a trip back into history and even pre-history is good idea. It’s been said more than once that this northern third or half of Indiana is a dull place through which to ride or drive. However, even a brief study of its past reveals several ice ages and a broad, pre-ice age river system—the Teays—that was the main drainage or watershed for the eastern part of the continent and which predated the Ohio and Mississippi River systems. The Teays is thought to have begun in the North Carolina,West Virginia region of the Appalachian Mountains, wound across Ohio and this “dull” part of Indiana, into Illinois, and finally draining into the Gulf of Mexico, which reached much further north back then. The Teays flowed amid valleys thought to be a mile or two wide in some areas and several hundred feet deep.
 
Muscatatuck Bottoms. Photo by JP ConradPost ice-aged humans would have seen a variety of ecotypes, from more northerly evergreen forest species to bogs and prairie habitats, and certainly, lakes left over from melting ice blocks. The Teays River system was most often dammed and diverted by glacial ice, and then filled in with the glacial till and the outwash left behind by the massive melting ice sheet that had spread out from east Canada. So, what was once an area of tributaries and the mighty Teays became a more level terrain, and is today called the Tipton Till Plain in Indiana. Glacial erratics, or large, glacier-transported boulders, can sometimes be found in fields or front yards nowadays. A fairly detailed article on the Teays system can be found online under the Ohio State DNR spring, summer 2004 magazine issue if you want to find out more.
 
Just east of the northern Farm Heritage Trail in Flora, Indiana, were recent finds of mastodon remains and a ten-thousand year old awl, shaped from a deer bone by some very early “Hoosier” in that area.
 
Those northern tree and plant types receded further north as climate warmed and precipitation changed.Wells drilled by early land-owners in Indiana sometimes yielded more than water: preserved tree species were found of kinds mostly growing today in more northern latitudes. Ecosystems gradually evolved to support the familiar hardwoods, prairies, and then agricultural landscapes, and these resources owe much of their richness to their glacial ancestry. 
 
Much of the recent history of the Farm Heritage Trail region dealt with control of land and fur trade, first among Native American nations, then involving European immigrants. Lafayette’s Canal Street hints at that early but short-lived transportation system in the mid-1800s. Finally, in 1852, the railroad that had already been built from Madison, Indiana on the Ohio River to Indianapolis was extended north to Lafayette. The towns on this route often grew up as a result of the railroad and its benefits to farmers, merchants, and industry along it, pushed ahead by entrepreneurial land owners who had property through which rails were laid. This original company was the Indianapolis and Lafayette Railroad, which much later became New York Central, and later still, the Farm Heritage Trail proposal. These early railroad settlements included Clark’s Hill, initially called Clarksville, Colfax, and Hazelrigg. Nearby, the interurban T. H. I. & E. line was laid from Indianapolis to Lafayette in the very early 1900s.
 
In addition, Thorntown is on this route. Its heritage dates from long before railroad alignments: the Eel River Miami Indians lived there at least as early as 1765, in the village called Kawiakiungi; it was a French trading post in the early 1800s; then, a town in 1830. Its name derives from the Miami and was the Indian description for the prevalent brambles that grew there. An historical marker along SR47 describes the treaties between the newly-formed American government and the Miami Nation, who were granted a 64,000 acre reserve in the Thorntown/East Crawfordsville, and Sugar Creek area in 1818. A few short years later, this reserve was ceded to the U. S., in 1828. Not far away, there is a Lincoln Inaugural Train Historical Marker on SR39 in Lebanon, Indiana.
 
The Farm Heritage Trail, then, winds through more than just American, agricultural, and railroading history. Jumping forward to today, the trail can also lead you to festivals, museums, or sources for locally grown food.
 
Festival gatherings take place through the year at towns along the trail, including the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon in Lafayette, Festival of the Turning Leaves and the Winter Festival of Arts & Music, both in Thorntown. Zionsville has the Brick Street Market, a Chili Cook-Off, art shows, and Christmas in the Village, and then there’s Back to the Fifties Festival in Lebanon, to name a few. Several locations have July 4th celebrations, such as Lebanon and Zionsville. There are many other events in the Farm Heritage Trail vicinity; check individual communities for more detailed listings, or the Indiana Festival Guide available at rest areas or at IndianaFestivals.org.
 
Museums and historic building examples are the Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum near the trail’s north end, Thorntown Heritage Museum, and the Linden Railroad Museum, among others. The Carnegie Library, built in 1917 and the Rosenberger Building, circa 1850, are both located in Colfax. Don’t miss Prophetstown State Park with its historical information, along with the restored prairie ecosystem that’s there, and witness an area that, according to Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, has been inhabited for thousands of years—definitely before New York Central!
 
For sure the Farm Heritage Trail leads through the Heartland, and very near to a variety of outlets and agricultural producers who have meat, vegetable, and decorative items for purchase. The Indiana Department of Agriculture lists a number of farmers’ markets in Tippecanoe, Clinton, and Boone Counties, through which the trail stretches. Farm products cover a broad range, from poultry, eggs, beef, and pork to tree fruits, blueberries, pumpkins and gourds, and just about any other fruit or vegetable you can think of. There is even a Christmas tree farm in Mechanicsburg, and a free range turkey producer down the road in Thorntown.
 
Article by: Jane Conrad