During his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb continued to push his previously-announced Next Level Agenda, but he also unveiled plans for a major trail project in southern Indiana. The proposed Monon South trail would span 62.3 miles of the abandoned Monon Railroad, running through Clark, Floyd, Washington, Orange and Lawrence counties.
“We look at [railroads] because they’re ready-made trails once you pull off the tracks and the ties and stuff,” said DNR Director Dan Bortner. “When this thing came about, just the sheer connected length of it was really what got our attention.”
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Bortner said the state has had its eye on the historic railroad for several years, and the governor’s Next Level Trails program put the plan in motion.
“Here, you have one contiguous trail that will [span] five counties and half a dozen or more communities, it was just a no brainer of trying to pursue it,” said Bortner. “Then comes the hard part: how do you get it funded? And the Next Level Trails program that Gov. Holcomb has instituted, this was tailor made for it.”
When complete, Holcomb said Monon South would become the longest contiguous, multi-use trail in the state.
Bortner and the DNR led the negotiations to acquire the property to create the trail, in conjunction with the city of New Albany and Radius Indiana, an economic development partnership that covers eight southern Indiana counties.
Bortner said a purchase agreement has been signed, and work is underway now to get conservation easements and other necessary caveats in place.
The project is being supported by nearly $30 million from the Next Level Trails program, with $5.5 million being used to acquire the property. Radius Indiana said it has committed $650,000 to the project, and the Indiana Uplands Region has pledged $1 million in READI funding.
The state will not own any of the property but will be heavily involved in the trail’s development, Bortner said. The city of New Albany will manage and operate the trail within Floyd County, while Radius Indiana will manage and operate the remainder of the trail.
“Communities like Borden and Pekin and Campbellsburg and Mitchell all have the chance to turn the Monon into a business growth engine because tourists will be walking and biking through the middle of those towns in the coming years,” Radius CEO Jeff Quyle said in written remarks. “And the amenities that grow to serve the tourists will also be there to improve services for the current and future residents as well.”
Bortner said for the region, the trail will be “outstanding” because of the communities it will connect.
“It’s more than just a few hours on a trail; you can take off on a Sunday afternoon and be gone for a week once this thing is done,” he said. “We know that Hoosiers appreciate trails. When you have the trails that are affected by the Next Level Trails program, you’re going from community to community and just linking those things up. Hoosiers appreciate that, and they appreciate the ability to get outside and do that.”
A specific timeline for the trail’s construction is not yet known. Bortner said he expects all the paperwork for the business deal to be complete in the next month or two, at which point plans for the design and construction efforts will begin.
Radius estimated construction using the funding currently pledged for the project could take place from 2024 to 2026.
Gov. Holcomb said with the Monon South trail, the state will have invested $150 million in trails since 2019. The governor also plans to seek an additional $50 million for more trails in this year’s legislative session.
You can see more about the trail from the city of New Albany in the video below: