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Trailblazing: The B&O Trail Continues to Grow

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

Back in the fall of 1992, Diana Virgil, an accountant by trade but a biking enthusiast at heart, attended a meeting in Speedway about abandoned railroad corridors. The meeting inspired her to get involved in creating a trail system for bikers, walkers and runners, and she began educating herself about the 65 miles of abandoned trails extending through Marion, Hendricks, Putnam and Parke counties.

In 1994, Rail Corridor Development, Inc. (now B&O Trail Association, Inc. or BOTA) and Hendricks County Trail Development, Inc. (which Virgil and her husband, Hall, formed) combined forces to convert the former rail line to a community rail-trail.

In 2005, 16 miles of the abandoned CSX railroad in Hendricks were purchased. Construction began in 2007 on the sections from Raceway Road to Ronald Reagan Parkway and 300N to SR 267 (now Green Street).

New construction on two miles commenced in the summer of 2016 at Green Street, which expanded the trail westward. Crews paved that section and opened it during the winter. In addition, developers erected an impressive bridge over White Lick Creek — one whose design was given a lot of thought. When Virgil was researching aspects of trail building, she visited several bridges.

“Years ago, I was on a Crawfordsville Trail Bridge and had to stand on my tippy toes to look over the creek, and I didn’t like that,” Virgil says. “I wanted gaps so that folks could stop on the bridge and admire the peaceful creek and trees on either side.”

In addition, contractors installed a signal so that pedestrians can push a button to stop traffic before crossing Green Street.

Virgil says the most common question folks have concerns parking. Thankfully, a new 10-space parking lot will also be constructed this spring on the east side of Green Street, in front of the Brownsburg Rotary Club shelter.

Designers will spread native seeds along the trails so that exercisers can enjoy flowering bushes and bursts of color. Virgil notes that when you’re on the trails, surrounded by nature, stress fades and moods lift.

“In fact, when you get far enough on the crossroads, noise is removed,” Virgil says. “It’s nothing but peace and serenity.”

Avon resident Reena Niper agrees. She gravitates to the B&O Trail because it’s a quiet, beautiful place to run.

“I enjoy the sounds of the birds, the native flowers and running over White Lick Creek,” Niper says.

Community members use the trail not only to exercise and walk their dogs but also for things like geocaching, a treasure hunting game that involves hiding and finding hidden treasures using a phone’s GPS.

The trails are also used for running, walking, biking and even horse-riding events. The 25th anniversary of the B&O Bicycle Tour (sponsored by Hendricks Regional Health) is always held on National Trails Day, the first Saturday of June. Designed to introduce families to the joy of trail use, participants can choose to ride the 10, 25, 45 or 62-mile route through Hendricks County.

“People on all four routes will get to use the newly paved section, including the bridge over White Lick Creek,” says Virgil, who wondered years ago if a trail system would ever make it Indiana.

“People who lived near the rails were afraid. They didn’t like the idea of strangers being near their property,” Virgil explains.

After the creation of the Monon, however, Virgil witnessed a shift in attitude from Hoosiers.

“Once people saw all the great things trails could offer, they were on board,” says Virgil, noting that whenever she’s on the trail, she’s struck by all the friendly faces and offers to help. Some use leaf blowers to rid the trail of fallen leaves and debris. Others pick up litter and do trail maintenance.

In March, Brian Payne, of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, spoke at the B&O Trail’s annual meeting about creating a new vision for central Indiana trails. Payne spoke about the effort that is underway to develop a $100 million vision that could potentially include an extension of the B&O Trail into downtown Indy. At the meeting, BOTA board member Richard Vonnegut, from the Indiana Rails to Trails Council, mentioned two key state bills — HB 1174 and SB 494 —t hat are currently in the hands of a legislature summer study committee. If the committees pass them next year, they will positively affect the future of trails in Indiana. 

The Bicentennial Trail will ultimately connect to the B&O at 300 North. Currently, there is no trail construction going west past 500 East. Last year, the Hendricks County Parks Department helped clear a section further west. Virgil urges people to donate so they can start clearing 500 East going west and open it as a rustic trail until they get the money to pave it.

“We haven’t decided how far we’ll go,” Virgil says. “At least a mile, maybe more.”

Tom Klein, Avon Town Manager, says the long-term goal is to have a trail system that will connect everyone.

“Linear parks are the big thing,” Klein says. “People want to see [trails] in their communities because they want to get outside to walk and bike.”

For more information, visit botrail.org. To inquire about volunteer opportunities, e-mail botrail@earthlink.net or call Eileen Savoldi at 317-297-2031.

Upcoming Events to Benefit the Trail

June 3: The B&O Bicycle Tour. Ride starts at 8:30 a.m. Registration includes lunch and live music following the ride.

August 5: Jacks 5K Walk/Run. Event starts at 8:00 a.m. and includes a free pancake breakfast on the campus of Ben Davis High School.

October 1: Naptown Triathlon at Eagle Creek Park. Event starts at 8:00 a.m.

October 28: Dragstrip Dash Express 5K & 10K Walk/Run and Kid’s Mini in Brownsburg.

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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