It's no secret Fort Wayne has an expansive trails system. With 70 miles of trails throughout Allen County and numerous national and statewide awards, the city of Fort Wayne and its long list of supporting organizations has made Fort Wayne into a connected community.
The connected community of cyclists and trail lovers gathered together Tuesday evening to celebrate national Bike to Work Month and participate in Fort Wayne's week of events at Trek the Trails.
This week's event was held at Deer Ridge Elementary School, 1515 Scott Road, for a 6-mile ride, and as usual, many of the regular riders were there including trails volunteer and avid rider Ben Horrell and his daughter Megan.
Horrell is also a trails Ranger. Trained by the Fort Wayne Police Department and the city to look out for safety concerns and security issues as well as help maintain the trails, the city works with more than 80 Rangers who are responsible for keeping on eye on a half-mile stretch of the trail.
“Using the trails is a good form of exercise. We enjoy being on the trails and meeting all kinds of new people here,” he said. “The trails are a good way to get around Fort Wayne.”
Promoting a healthy lifestyle, making the community connected and increasing safety for cyclists and pedestrians are the three main goals for the city as it develops and expands the trails system.
Amy Hartzog, greenways assistant for the city, said the Trek the Trails events are just one way of celebrating the extensive trails system and creating a close-knit community.
“We want people to learn how to navigate the trails because when you do it with a group, it's a safer type of experience because you don't have the overwhelming fear of getting lost.” Hartzog said.
With a trails representative in the front of the pack, one in the middle and one at the end, Trek the Trails organizers leave no one behind, no matter the skill level.
In its fourth year, the Trek the Trails program continues to grow. This year, the City of Fort Wayne is trying a new approach to the event by having a Trek the Trails mixer on the second Tuesday, June through September. At these events, the biking and walking community are invited to meet at the trails head for a hike or bike ride then get a chance to taste the local fare from area food trucks.
“We found that the people that attend these rides start to form friendships over the course of the season,” Hartzog said. “People feel comfortable enough to talk to other people but not necessarily comfortable enough to go out to have dinner so we are bringing dinner to them at the park.”
There is also a bike giveaway. If you don't have a ride yet, as you attend each Trek the Trails event, you have the chance to sign up to enter in a raffle for a Trek bike. The more rides you attend, the more chances you have of winning. (If you want to learn more about the different types of bikes available, check out this story published in The News-Sentinel as part of the Bike to Work Month series.)
“Trek the Trails gives people an opportunity to discover more of Fort Wayne and reconnect with nature and our rivers,” said Dawn Ritchie, greenways manager for the city.
In just six and a half years, Fort Wayne has grown the trails system from 20 miles to 70 miles. Today, more than 50 miles are connected trails systems from Aboite Township to New Haven. But, the city isn't stopping there. In the next 10 years, planners hope to have a total of 150 miles of trails in the region, including the Pufferbelly trails that will connect Pokagon State Park in Angola to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.
If you think the plan sounds ambitious, you're right. But while the city can celebrate many achievements in the trails system, it's not all butterflies and rainbows. There have been many challenges, such as funding.
While Fort Wayne is lucky to be able to spend Legacy Funds on six new developments, most of the money paying for the trails is from grants and community fundraising.
That's why the partnerships are so integral.
“Knowing that the city cannot fund it all and that federal funding is so tight, Fort Wayne Trails Inc. is an important partnership we have and key to our success,” said city spokesman Frank Suarez.
“Fort Wayne is a little bit unique, because we put the greenways department in the Public Works area, and that is different than being part of the parks department because we started looking at it as a transportation instead of a recreational use. That has helped us grow,” Suarez said.
Whether you ride for the exercise, to lessen your carbon footprint or just for fresh air, the Fort Wayne trails system is a haven for the area cyclist. Just ask Deb Sorg.
“(Riding your bike) is an education for the riders and a visual for the drivers out there. It's great we have the bike lanes downtown, our infrastructure needed that boost. Look at the metropolitan cities like Boston that have these types of bike infrastructure. People really gravitate toward that,” she said.
By the numbers:
•More than 250 bike racks
•483,581 people used the trails in 2012
•70 miles of trails
•50 miles of connected trails
•6 bike lanes
•20 miles of on street bike infrastructure
Source: The City of Fort Wayne