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Big 4 Trail gains momentum with $1.6 million grant

BRIDGING THE GAP: Posing for a photo on a section of the Big 4 Trail are, from left,Elise Nieshalla, Boone County Council; Kevin Van Horn, Boone County Council; Donnie Lawson, Boone County Commissioner; Dave “Grumpy” Williams, Thorntown Council; Angie Moody, Community Development & Parks Thorntown; Dan Warkentien, Friends of Boone County Trails; Derek Warren, Friends of Boone County Trails; Tom Santelli, Boone County Commissioner; Steve Clossin, Town of Colfax Utility and Street Dept. Superintendent; Betty Snell, Clerk-Treasurer Colfax; and Liz Stitzel, Clinton County Area Plan.

Times staff - news@ftimes.com

Collaborative efforts between the Town of Colfax, Clinton County and Boone County have been underway to see the Big 4 Trail developed between Colfax and Thorntown. These efforts were rewarded when Governor Holcomb announced that the Town of Colfax received a Next Level Trails Grant for the completion of the Big 4 Trail between the two towns. Work has recently begun and the completion is expected by June of 2020.

The path toward this grant award started when the Town of Colfax chose to pursue Next Level Trails funding in an effort to complete work they had already begun on the section of the Big 4 that runs through the center of their town and connects to the existing sections of the trail to the south in Thorntown. Liz Stitzel, executive director of the Clinton County Area Plan Commission, came to the Boone County Commissioners on behalf of the Town of Colfax. She explained that Colfax’s interest in applying for the state’s Next Level Trail Grant was to develop the trail between their town and Thorntown, which would include three miles of trail into Boone County.

“Colfax sees the development of the trail as a key component to future economic opportunity for their town,” Stitzel stated. She added that in order for Colfax to be eligible for the grant, they had to have a 20 percent match and that the value of the trail land, in the form of a significant donation from The Friends of Boone County Trails, could serve that purpose. Without the value of the land donation for the match, Colfax would not be able to move forward. Stitzel added that Colfax would eventually want to deed this section of the trail in Boone County to the Boone County Commissioners for them to maintain. At a subsequent meeting on June 3, the Boone County Commissioners passed an ordinance allowing the Town of Colfax to own and improve the portion of the trail between the County Line and Thorntown and included the provision that the ownership of the land would be deeded back to Boone County within three years.

“This is great for them and great for us,” said Boone County Commissioner Donnie Lawson. “Working together is what is important.”

“This is a terrific team effort of two counties and two municipalities,” Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli added.

Numerous other partners have also assisted in moving the completion of this section of trail forward including the Clinton County Council, Clinton County Chamber of Commerce and many local organizations and volunteers in Colfax.

The Next Level Trails Grant Program, which will invest $90 million over the next two years in Indiana’s trail network, looked very favorably on the intergovernmental collaboration that was noted in Colfax’s grant application.

“This process has been a coming together of the landowner, trail towns and two counties to work out the details that respects everybody’s needs in order to offer an improved amenity for recreation and community life,” said Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe.

“Solid coordination has taken place between the law enforcement offices of both Clinton and Boone Counties, and Colfax and Thorntown, and we will work together to make sure safety on the trail is a priority,” said Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen.

To the South, Boone County is working through figuring out mutually beneficial partnerships with the other trail municipalities regarding the development and pavement of the remaining two gaps in the trail that exist to complete the connection from Zionsville to Colfax. The Next Level Trails Grant Program looks favorably on intergovernmental collaborations as it makes decisions on the distribution of two more rounds of state funding over the next year. Both Whitestown and Zionsville did not receive funding for their Big 4 corridor projects from the first round of Next Level Trails grant rewards. They, along with Lebanon, are hopeful to be successful in either the second or third rounds of grant awards.

“We are grateful Colfax and Liz Stitzel have taken the initiative to develop the Big 4 Trail north of the Sugar Creek Bridge to the County Line,” said Angie Moody, Community Development Director of Thorntown. “The additional mileage of the trail will lead to greater usage, which will be wonderful for both of our smaller communities’ economic viability.”

Completing the Big 4 Trail from Zionsville to Lafayette and then connecting it to multiple other trails like the Monon and the B&O is part of the Governor’s Visionary Trail Plan.