County officials advance pathway connections

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In recent years, connecting pathways across Zionsville and greater Boone County has a priority for residents and authorities. Although progress on the Big 4 Trail, a historic-railway-turned-trail, has stalled along the way due to issues with land acquisition and funding, county officials now have a plan to move forward with at least one section.

At a Jan. 22 Boone County Board of Commissioners meeting, HWC Engineering Director of Planning Cory Whitesell presented findings from a Nov. 13, 2018 trail summit, conducted by the Boone County Trail Committee.

The summit included an open discussion between community members and Boone County officials about the future expansion of the Big 4 Trail and its connection between Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon and Thorntown. Many in attendance spoke in favor of the path following the historic Big Four Railroad corridor.

Whitesell, who specializes in complex planning projects that involve coordination between government, the community and various stakeholders, said the committee found it best to follow the original rail corridor for the Whitestown-to-Lebanon section of the trail.

According to Whitesell, there are five reasons the rail options work best: safety, cost, low-property impact, aesthetics and history.

“This (route) avoids drive crossings and keeps the pathway separated from county roads,” Whitesell said. “It is the lowest-cost option available.”

By following the former railroad path, only six property owners will be directly affected by the trail. Other proposed options showed the trail crossing as many as 32 properties.

“One of the things we heard at the trail summit was this (would be) the most pleasant route to walk,” Whitesell said.

Whitesell also said local history was a factor because President Abraham Lincoln rode the railway to his inauguration. His body also traveled on the Big Four en route his funeral.

The next step is to begin the process of applications through the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources and secure funding. Then, the community will pursue acquisition of the properties from the owners, with whom they have already been in discussions.

“We’re excited to move forward,” Whitesell said. “It starts by asking for input and going through this slowly. We (wanted to) get the right route first and then take the next steps.”

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