NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: New executive director continues Trails legacy

Megan McClellan has been named executive director for Fort Wayne Trails, Inc., taking over the lead in an endeavor that began with the help of former News-Sentinel Editor Ernie Williams 45 years ago.

McClellan will officially assume her new position at Fort Wayne Trails on Monday, replacing former Executive Director Kent Castleman, who has served in that role since 2016. Castleman left Fort Wayne Trails to join Lasting Change, Inc., as its chief development officer.

Fort Wayne Trails, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that, according to its mission statement, “acts as a community partner and advocate with local municipalities in the development of a connected, multi-purpose trail system in Allen County.” The non-profit was organized in 2011 as a merger of three local trails groups, the Rivergreenway Consortium, Aboite New Trails and Northwest Allen Trails.

The News-Sentinel’s Williams, editor from 1966-1982, was a member of the citizen advisory committee that helped formulate Phase I of the 1974 Fort Wayne Park Master Plan, which made the first formal mention of proposed trails for our community and set a goal of creating 17 miles of bicycle trail through the city’s parks and along its river banks.

By 1975, according to the Fort Wayne Trails website, the Foster Park Bicycle Path was completed – our community’s first paved, multipurpose trail. The following year, the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council prepared a Bicycle Plan for northeast Indiana and identified the route of the then-future Pufferbelly Trail.

By 1978, Williams, who died in 1989, directed The Rivergreenway Consortium, comprised of citizen advocates and government agency representatives. The consortium worked with the city to develop the trails along our local rivers. Aboite New Trails was formed in the early 2000s to address the need for pedestrian and bicycle facilities in southwest suburban Allen County. Northwest Allen Trails began about the same time to provide trails north and northwest of downtown Fort Wayne.

Earlier this month, prior to his departure, Castleman announced the approval by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for nearly $3.3 million of further construction to extend the existing Pufferbelly Trail from the northern edge of Allen County south 13 miles where it will connect with the Rivergreenway in downtown Fort Wayne.

New Executive Director McClellan previously served nearly five years in that role for Trails at the Syracuse-Wawasee Park Foundation. According to a news release, she also served in the Peace Corps in West Africa, as outreach coordinator for the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail in New York and as a research assistant at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She is a graduate of Earlham College in Richmond and Bard College in New York.

Fort Wayne Trails chairman of the board Marty Pastura says McClellan was an ideal choice for the job because she met the high standards the organization was looking for, “based on her unique combination of leadership, governmental relations, fundraising and project management skills” – those traits, he said in the official announcement, “plus her passion for trails.”

We wish her well as she begins her new assignment, which will include the Pufferbelly Trail project. The Pufferbelly Trail is one segment of a State Visionary Trail that will ultimately be 80 miles long, running from Pokagon State Park in Angola to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.

Ernie Williams would be proud.