By Deb Patterson
SYRACUSE — While the Conklin Bay Trail has been open for use since May 20, it was officially opened Thursday morning with a ribbon cutting. Over 100 people attended the event ranging from financial partners, contractors, engineers, donors, committee members and interested individuals.
Kay Young, Syracuse-Wawasee Trail Committee president, gave an overview of the project that went from a vision to the planning stages. “The trail committee took on the challenge in 2015,” Young said. “It had been a vision, but we really buckled down with the planning at that point. Megan (McClelland, former director) was instrumental in getting grants and lastly the final piece of that was the state, who gave us what we needed to go over the top to build this trail.”
Young recalled the day when she received a call from McClelland informing her the project had received $1.2 million from the Next Level Trails Grant through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “It was a very exiting day when Megan made that call to me.” Young noted since the trail was opened it has been well used.
She noted the uniqueness of the trail. To the north, a boardwalk is connected to the concrete trail at the WACF property and at Harkless Drive. The one-third mile of boardwalk goes through the wetland with three overlook areas along with an observatory and information about what people are going to see.
Young noted the generous donation from Polywood of benches for trail users to sit and relax as well as observe nature. Regarding the south leg of the trail, Young noted it continues along SR 13 for two-thirds of a mile, connecting to North Grandview Drive.
“This trail adds to the existing 11-mile trail system. We are happy to have worked wth WACF ad WPOA in marking things for you to see along the trail. We are still working on amenities such as bicycle racks and dog waste stations,” said Young.
Bob Smith, project chairman, spoke about the challenges met with the project and some adjustments to the original plans. He talked about where the project had been, the process and showed composites of some of the materials used to build the boardwalk. He noted the project was the first one to receive the Next Level grant and believes to be the first one to finish a project.
Smith mainly focused on where the trails committee will go from here. “Our objective is to build a trail around the lake,” he said, referring to a map showing completed trails and proposed trails. He also noted a potential trail from Wawasee High School south to the new ball fields on Kern Road.
He referenced a chart that listed trail priorities. The top two – downtown Syracuse and Conklin Bay – were completed. Remaining on the list were trails in the areas of Ideal Beach, Southshore, Vawter Park, Hatchery Road, Turkey Creek, Enchanted Hills and Johnson Bay. “We have met with some of these people,” he said, noting these projects are still dreams. “We are now looking for our next project … if anybody out there is interested, get with us,” he said, noting whatever area has the most interest could be the next project. Smith added that there would be no reason why a boardwalk couldn’t be used in the Johnson Bay area.
Smith also noted there was a bigger picture going beyond the lakes. He noted North Webster has a desire to run trails through town and to Wawasee Middle School as well as the elementary school. Another group is considering tying into a trail from the North Webster Elementary school along the Tippecanoe River to Warsaw, including canoe launching sites. “There is unlimited potential,” Smith said.
No ribbon cutting is complete without the recognition of those who made it possible. Erlene Yentes, executive director, signaled out those individuals. The top tier donors included the Next Level Trails, WACF, Miller Family Foundation, K21 Health Foundation and Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Commission.
She welcomed past committee members, extending gratitude for their passion and volunteering of their time. A special welcome was given to two of the founding fathers – Spike Ford and Dave Brandes. “They, along with Dave Lichtenauer and Max Laudeman, started this committee. Their vision, initiative, dedication and hard work has laid the foundation for the trails.” Recognition was also given to the trail committee, contractors, engineers, local, county and state officials.