SYRACUSE — The completion of the Conklin Bay segment of the Syracuse Wawasee Trail was celebrated Thursday morning.
About 100 people watched as a ceremonial ribbon was cut in a ceremony for the extension of the trail from Harkless Drive to Conklin Bay. The new section of pedestrian/bicycle trail includes a boardwalk through the Rolland Wetland Conservation Area along Ind. 13 south of Syracuse, which ends at North Grandview Drive.
An added feature of the new trail is that it allows users to access the Wawasee Area Conservation Foundation’s property and its system of walking trails through wetlands.
Syracuse Wawasee Trails Executive Director Erlene Yentes welcomed all the Conklin Bay donors and thanked them for their “support of this project that’s spanned over the last five years. We appreciate your generosity, collaboration, encouragement and trust during this project.”
She recognized all the major donors and gave special recognition to two men, who she called the “founding fathers of the trails,” Clyde “Spike” Ford and Dr. David Brandes, who, along with a couple of others, were instrumental in starting the Syracuse Wawasee Trails Committee.
In addition to the new trail, the committee has overseen the creation of 11 miles of trails in the Syracuse and lakes area.
Kay Young, chair of the committee, recognized past and current committee members, including Robert Smith, project manager, whom she said was “very passionate about protecting our wetlands and lake views.”
Young said, “We built it and they have come. The trail is being heavily used. We’re very fortunate to have a trail system in a town our size.”
She explained that while the vision for the trail to Conklin Bay was there longer, it was 2015 when the committee really buckled down with the planning for Conklin Bay. Former executive director Megan McClellan was instrumental in getting grants, according to Young, and the final piece was the state’s Next Level grant for $1.2 million that was awarded in February 2019. Ground was broken June 10, 2019, and construction began in October. The trail was opened May 20.
Young said people have been enjoying the trail that connects to Harkless Drive and added 1.37 miles to the trail system and a second section of boardwalk. She said there is 1/3 mile of wetland along the boardwalk and local manufacturing company Polywood donated benches for that section. With this addition, there is now more than 12 miles of trails in and near Syracuse.
Young said the trail committee hopes to add more amenities along the trail, including bike racks and dog waste stations.
She said they were happy to work with the Wawasee Area Conservation Foundation and the Wawasee Property Owner’s Association.
“The big question we keep getting is ‘where are you going next?’” Young said before she turned it over to Bob Smith to answer.
Smith explained some of the struggles the committee had to overcome and, using the posters, showed the sections already completed and possibilities for next steps. He said the ultimate objective is to build a trail all the way around Lake Wawasee. He said trail segments don’t necessarily have to be constructed in any order, they could “patchwork it” and ultimately the trails would connect. So, their plan is to go where there is the most interest.
“We’re a small group looking for our next project,” he said.
He also said that a bigger goal is to connect the Syracuse Wawasee trail system regionally to North Webster and Warsaw, like the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail connects Goshen with Shipshewana.