Holcomb marks 100th mile of Indiana trails program in Merrillville

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lake County officials marked the 100th mile of trail built through the state’s Next Level Trails program during a ribbon cutting Tuesday that opened a nearly 3-mile segment of the C&O Trail in Merrillville.

Town officials and Lake County Parks worked together to fund the 2.82 miles of trail, according to a state news release. Through a $804,106 grant, the Lake County Parks built 1.47 miles of the trail, and Merrillville officials received an approximately $1.4 million grant to complete 1.35 miles of the trail.

Holcomb said he was pleased to commemorate the 100-mile progress of the state’s Next Level Trails program, which awarded $180 million toward 89 projects across the state to foster the development of regional and local trails.

Of the 89 projects, 34 have been completed and contributed to 100 miles of trails since the program’s inception in 2018, according to the release. In December, Holcomb announced that 14 communities received a combined $31.2 million for 28 miles of new trails as the Next Level Trail’s fourth round of funding.

“It bodes well for the future because it’s 100 miles more to go, and more and more and more,” Holcomb said. “These days prove that big things can be done in Indiana.”

Indiana trails connect cities to counties and offer educational and therapeutic elements to those using the trails, Holcomb said. Trails also have the potential to boost the economy as people travel to use a specific trail, he said.

“When you’re building trails, you’re investing in growth,” Holcomb said.

Chris Dilts, Lake County Park Board President, said he was pleased to see the 100th mile of the Next Level Trails program. When he first joined the park board, Dilts said he couldn’t have predicted how popular trails would become in Indiana.

Rick Bella, Merrillville Town Council president, said the C&O Trail extension enhances the trail and allows for greater connectivity in the area.

“This trail extension will be enjoyed by generations to come serving as a testament to the impact of collaborative effort,” Bella said.

Mitch Barloga, Active Transportation Manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said while Tuesday’s ribbon cutting marked the 100th mile of the Next Level Trails program, it also marked the 200th mile of trails within Northwest Indiana.

The best way to invest in a community is to build a trail, Barloga said, as trails promote health, environment and economy.

As Holcomb nears the end of his term as governor, Barloga said Holcomb should consider the trails program as part of his legacy.

“Your legacy is secured,” Barloga said.

Holcomb said he views the trails program as the state’s legacy.

“What we’ve sought to do is leave it better than we found it,” Holcomb said. “This is a Hoosier legacy, if anything.”

During a luncheon at Avalon Manor following the ribbon cutting, Holcomb reflected on his tenure as governor.

Holcomb said he was most proud of the “total sum” of the programs and initiatives that his administration accomplished.

“It’s somewhat sentimental,” Holcomb said.

While working in Northwest Indiana, Holcomb said he was proud of moving forward with the South Shore double-tracking project.

After he leaves office in January, Holcomb said his wife has already planned a two-month trip for them. Holcomb said he wasn’t sure what lies ahead for him following the trip but joked that the parking likely won’t be as good.