TERRE HAUTE —
If plans flow smoothly, walkers and runners could be streaming along a new trail parallel to the banks of the Wabash River.
The planned pathway could be completed next year, as Hauteans salute the waterway in a yearlong celebration: 2013 Year of the River.
Plans for a new sewer line to run along the east bank of the Wabash have helped spur efforts to establish the trail, which will connect Fairbanks Park to city-owned property just north of Interstate 70 west of Prairieton Road – a distance of about 1.5 miles.
“It all just kind of came together,” said Mayor Duke Bennett, speaking of plans to improve the city’s sewer system and plans for the trail.
For the past four or five years, the city has been establishing the right to install the new sewer line down the east bank of the Wabash as part of a federally mandated project to prevent combined stormwater and raw sewage (known as Combined Sewer Overflow, CSO) from entering the river.
The new sewer line is needed to divert millions of gallons of CSO annually to a storage lagoon south of the city and then to the sewage treatment plant.
The sewer line will take the same path as the planned trail – down what was once Paul Dresser Drive. The now defunct section of roadway is still barely visible along the east side of the Wabash from Fairbanks Park to a spot about a mile to the south.
The trail itself is “still in the planning stages,” said Chuck Ennis, city engineer. But for the first several years of its existence, the trail will be paved with crushed stone, not asphalt. That’s because the heavy equipment needed to install the sewer line would likely damage an asphalt trail, he said.
Mayor Bennett said he hopes work on the trail can be completed next year, coinciding with the “Year of the River.” But it was still unclear that would take place, he said.
Funding for the trail will come from the Sanitary District’s bond issues being used to finance the approximately $120-million CSO project, Ennis said.
An important link
Once completed, the new section of trail will be a key part of the city’s growing hiking and biking trail system, providing a link connecting the bulk of the trail system with the city’s south side, said Ron Hinsenkamp, chief transportation planner for the West Central Economic Development District’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“It’s part of the bigger master plan” for trails in Vigo County, Hinsenkamp said. “Trails and bike paths are all a part of the city’s transportation network.”
The city currently has more than 18 miles of trails, but that number will soon be growing. In addition to the city’s trail on the east side of the river, a new, 6.5-mile trail on the west side of the Wabash will soon be opening to the public, said Jon Mutchner, president of Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc., better known as Riverscape. That trail should open to the public in the spring and will follow a levy along the west side of the river, he said.
“It’s all going to be linked together,” said Mutchner, whose Riverscape group has been promoting trails and other development near the river for several years. “For a community of this size, it’s going to be one of the most impressive trail systems in the Midwest.”
The legal groundwork
In the past several years, city officials have been working to establish they have the right to place a trail and new sewer line along the Wabash River south of Fairbanks Park. A large part of the land involved is already owned by the city, including property formerly owned by International Paper Co.
One section of land required the city to go to court to establish the right for the trail, Bennett said. That was for property where the defunct Wabash Environmental Technologies once operated.
“We went through the court system to allow us to put a trail on top of the sewer,” Bennett said.
The entire process of establishing easement rights for the sewer took between four and five years, said Rhonda Oldham, a Terre Haute attorney representing the city in the matter.
Once the trail is in place, it could later link with a proposed “primitive” trail on the south side of I-70 on land soon to be owned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. That land, known as “the oxbow,” is surrounded by the river on three sides and floods about twice a year, Mayor Bennett said, meaning any trail there would have to be made of bark or wood chips.
The new trail south of Fairbanks Park is just one of many things planned for 2013 marking “The Year of the River.” But it’s a welcome contribution by the City of Terre Haute, especially since it will allow people to see a section of the river that currently is only accessible by boat, said Mary Kramer, executive director of Wabash Valley Art Spaces and an organizer of The Year of the River.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Kramer said of the planned new trail. “I was thrilled to hear [the city] was going to do that.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or email@example.com.