Fort Wayne & Allen County Trails Overview
In April of 2012, the staff of Hoosier Rails to Trails Council traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana to talk trails, advocacy and quality of life with some of the most energetic, determined, can-do, passionate and visionary trail people in at least the Midwest.
We talked to Mayor Tom Henry who has his eyes on the horizon but his feet (and perhaps a bicycle) on Fort Wayne’s 68 miles of constructed trails. He spoke of the trail system as being the necessary component of the city’s quality-of- life that holds the city together.
Dawn Ritchie, the Greenways Manager for the City of Fort Wayne, gave us a walking/talking tour of some her favorite and most popular trails. She proudly showed us the quality, cleanliness, safety and breadth of the constructed system.
Lori Keyes, advocate extraordinaire, explained the power and voice of advocacy and illustrated it via the Oprah Big Give national challenge where she and her grassroots allies turned 10,000 dollars into one million dollars in just a few short, but very busy months. Her position as Executive Director of Fort Wayne Trails came about in 2011 when the three advocacy groups---Northwest Allen Trails Inc., Aboite New Trails group, and the Greenway Consortium joined forces under one organization and title. Today the Mayor, the City of Fort Wayne Department of Public Works, Fort Wayne Trails Inc., and all of the citizen advocates and trail volunteers together are building a legacy of connectivity to nature and neighborhoods, including schools, parks, cultural and commercial sites to complete and enhance one of the best trail systems in Indiana.
Fort Wayne’s fondness for trails though, is no accident. Its location at the confluence of two rivers and the headwaters of a third---The St. Joseph, St. Mary’s and Maumee--- has made it a travel destination and stopping point for at least 10,000 years. Native Americans, fur traders, missionaries, eventually British and American troops and then immigrants have all travelled the waters and lands called Fort Wayne.
The three rivers, the nearness of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River via the Wabash and Ohio River; and the fertile prairie led the Miami Indians to found Kekionga here in the mid-1600s. British and American troops fought battles and built forts here. Later, George Washington’s vision of connecting the country via the country’s waterways again drew people and commerce to Fort Wayne. Traveling from the north or east, Fort Wayne---The Summit City--- was positioned at the highest elevation along the historic Wabash-Erie Canal, making it down hill, so to speak, for travelers from the East Coast to the Mississippi River, New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico along the shortest water route. With the invention of the railroad engine, a network of land-based connectivity was developed in, around, through, to and from Fort Wayne. Components of that system remain today as either active rail lines or abandoned corridors waiting to be improved for bike and pedestrian travel as trails.
In the early 1900s the city again envisioned a connected city. This time the components were the rivers, drives, boulevards, parkways, parks, neighborhoods and the central business district. In consecutive order, they hired the two most talented planners of American cities in the country to design this system---George Edward Kessler and Charles Mulford Robinson.
Today, Fort Wayne’s Trail and Greenway System is a rich mix of history, culture and Nature, following many of these historic routes.
One of the oldest constructed trails in the country is the River Greenway Trail begun in the 1970s. Mile Marker “0” is located at the headwaters of the three rivers in downtown Fort Wayne. From this point the trail radiates along each of the three waterways: The St. Joseph Pathway currently extends 3.5 miles along the west bank, and plans to extend it to Shoaff Park will be completed in 2013; The St. Mary’s Pathway is 8.75 miles long running west and south out of the city; and the Maumee Pathway runs south and then east for 8.75 miles ending in New Haven. The River Greenway links cultural and natural points of interest such as Johnny Appleseed, Lawton, Swinney, Headwaters and Lakeside Parks and the Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne Native Trees of Indiana Riverwalk Trail. The 24 mile River Greenway is a designated National Recreation Trail recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as being an exemplary trail of local and regional significance. It is recognized as a part of America's national system of trails.
Today the River Greenway Trail allows biking, hiking, jogging and rollerblading with ample opportunity for nature study and fishing as well.
The historic Wabash-Erie Canal Towpath running through Fort Wayne is the foundation for the newly constructed Canal Towpath trail running southwest from the Wildwood Park neighborhood along Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve and past Lutheran Hospital a distance of 5.5 miles. A new trailhead is located along Engle Road and the exhibit space talks about Oprah’s Big Give initiative
The Canal Towpath Trail has provided the connection between the River Greenway System and the Aboite Township trails. The Aboite trails system link destinations such as two ice arenas, three youth centers and the beautiful Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve. The trails are multi-use and link residents of all ages to destinations and themselves.
The abandoned rail corridors of the city are providing more opportunity for pedestrian and bike trails. A State of Indiana Visionary Trail is planned along the former Fort Wayne, Jackson and Saginaw Railroad (later the New York Central), now affectionately called The Pufferbelly Trail. The completed trail would extend from Ouabache State Park in Bluffton in Wells County northward about eighty miles through Fort Wayne to Pokagon State Park in Steuben County, if not all the way to the Michigan State Line. Today the first one mile of trail has been completed. It begins at a trailhead on the northside of Ft Wayne at the Parkview YMCA along DuPont Road at Salomon Farm. It is becoming one of the city's most popular trails.
Fort Wayne also offers many loop trails in their parks and connector trails that will eventually connect the entire city.
Beside those trails in Allen County, there are other trails to visit in the vicinity. To the northwest near Albion is Chain O’ Lakes State Park with over 2700 acres and some ten miles of trails, and within its boundaries, about 200 acres of lakes. In addition, to the south of Fort Wayne, mountain bikers can find the 12-mile Huntington Mountain Bike Trail at Huntington Reservoir.