After not having an adequate recreation and transportation corridor in LaGrange County, LaGrange County Trails introduced the idea of a bike trail to the community, similar to the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail that runs through Elkhart County.

Jeff Wingstrom, of the non-profit county trails organization started this past January in LaGrange, said the proposed “Wabash Railroad Bike Trail” will be an excellent opportunity for safe and efficient travel between Millersburg, Topeka, LaGrange and Wolcottville.

“Right now, we are in the process of acquiring land and have commissioned a study to evaluate the land we are looking at,” Wingstrom said.

The 17-mile trail will connect the four areas and will follow the now discontinued Wabash Railroad route.

“We’re going to call the trail, the Hawpatch Trail. And the reason we are going to do that is because back in the day, there was an area of LaGrange County called the hawpatch that contained a beautiful forest that had super maple and black walnut trees and very little undergrowth. Topeka’s original name was actually Hawpatch,” Wingstrom said.

According to the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy organization, there have been a number of trails established across the U.S. following the Wabash Railroad line, most notably throughout Iowa.

The railroad had a long history, dating to the mid-1800s in the form of its predecessors. Many railroads purchased, leased and merged with the rail company throughout its history. At one point it had a main route that ran from Buffalo, N.Y., through southern Ontario, into Michigan, across Indiana and on to Kansas City, Missouri, according to information on the Wabash Railroad Historical Society’s website. There were also other lines that carried trains north into Michigan where trains were then transferred to ferries to cross Lake Michigan. Other branch lines served Chicago and St. Louis.

A NEED FOR A TRAIL

The Wabash Railroad bike trail project in LaGrange, Wingstrom noted, is greatly needed in the LaGrange community and surrounding areas. With a growing interest in biking to work, this trail will provide people with an opportunity to safely do so.

Although the trail initiative is in the very early stages, the nine member LaGrange County Trails board has high expectations for the trail project.

“We want to create a safe and enjoyable means of travel for people,” Wingstrom mentioned. “At some point, we would like to expand the trail to Rome City and other areas as well.”

The organization is currently in the process of consulting with Norfolk Southern Railways, which currently owns the rail route, and private land owners to discuss the possibility of acquiring land.

“We are very hopeful that we can reach an agreement,” Wingstrom said.

LaGrange County Trails will be hosting a public meeting Sept. 17 at 6:30 to discuss the anticipated project, with the design engineer answering any questions related to the proposed bike trail. The meeting will occur at the Topeka firehouse.

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