By Deb Patterson
The Conklin Bay Trail and Boardwalk has moved off the table and became a reality when ground was broken Monday, June 10, to begin construction. A groundbreaking ceremony was held near the area where the trail will enter the wetlands on the property of the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation. The trail is a project of the Syracuse-Wawasee Trail Committee.
The trail will go from Harkless Road to Grandview Drive in Syracuse, along the east side of SR 13.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Cameron Clark, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, with short comments heard from Kay Young, chairman of the Wawasee Property Owners Association and Syracuse-Wawasee Trails; Heather Harwood, executive director of WACF; and Alan Tio, chief executive officer with the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation.
Clark noted there were 82 applications in the first round of Next Level Trails applications. “Twice what we were expecting,” he stated, noting applications came from 42 different counties. Instead of the $90 million available, it would have taken $144 million to fund all applications and 240 miles of trails. “As it turned out there was a lot of great applications, 17 rose to the top and of those 17, once we’re done we’re going to have 42 miles of more trail on the ground.
“It’s no exaggeration to say this trail, Conklin Bay Trail and Boardwalk, probable was the cream of the crop,” Clark stated, noting the application stood out for a number of reasons. “The significant partnerships and matching funds that was one of the things that was important to the governor from the very start – leveraging partnerships and working together to connect communities within and without of the communities.” Another area that stood out on the application is the trail providing a connection, “a big pat for the governor. This particular part of the trail connects to an already significant network of trails you already have here in Syracuse, culminating in getting people to the educational center … giving people a great opportunity to view the beauty of the lake and wetlands.”
Clark stated the final item that stood out is the governor’s desire to “see trails on the ground as soon as he could and this met the accelerated time line. It is a truly shovel ready project, one we’re really excited … all goes well will be walking on it before the end of the year. It is really exciting for us and probably more exciting to you.”
Prior to Clark’s address, Megan McClellan, former executive director of Syracuse-Wawasee Trails, noted how when she interviewed for the job she was driven past that area and told a trail was needed and was challenged to do so. She explained of the early donation by the Pat Miller family of $100,000 but for construction use only, and the fundraising efforts, design and permitting work. “Thank you to those organizations who gave to that (design and engineering) … it has been a tremendous learning experience for me and tremendously rewarding to see this community coming together for this.”
Young noted the WPOA has supported the trails since the beginning. “We are really excited to see it come down 13 and it is going to provide us a safe way for the public to get on past the conservancy and hopefully someday on around the lake.”
Harwood noted the location of the groundbreaking is appropriate as it is on WACF’s very first property acquired in 1993. Today WACF owns 960 acres of protected land in the watershed. She noted WACF is a partner with the Syracuse-Wawasee Trails and the Department of Natural Resources. “We look forward to continuing that partnership.”
Tio stated trails is a way to connect and tie communities together. “How better to connect our communities … we know trails are the number one amenity people look for in a community .. trails increase property value … People want to know what you have to offer, can’t just say a great quality of life, great schools, great workforce. We have trails, we have great lakes to build around so people can have a unique quality of life … so much great experience here.”
The groundbreaking was attended by representatives of the DNR, Earth Source Inc., town of Syracuse, WACF board members, WPOA board members, Kosciusko Community Foundation, K21 Foundation, trails committee members, A&Z Engineering who helped design the trail in the state’s right of way and from Selge Construction, Niles, Mich., a contractor.
McClellan noted an earlier attempt for a trail in the state’s right of way was denied by the Indiana Department of Transportation, which prompted her to complete the trail along Harkless Drive out to SR 13. Work then began on securing funds for design and engineering and once received Earth Source was hired. Its estimated cost for the project was $1.2 million. Once more than $1 million was raised, the project was put out for bid. However, the bids came in at more than $2 million. Selge, the winning bidder, was asked to see where the project could be cut. However, when the governor’s Next Level Trail funding became available, McClellan contacted the governor’s office.
“I was desperately emailing the governor asking how I could get the money and when I’d get the money,” she stated. She also asked the contractors to put everything back in. The proposal for the state grant included synthetic decking instead of wood and cement walkways instead of crushed stone. McClellan noted these changes would provide easier maintenance for the trail. The announcement was made May 2 the Conklin Bay Trail and Boardwalk received funding from the state.
Christian Baybutt with Selge Construction stated work will begin as soon as the contracts are signed. “Within eight weeks,” he said. “It’s likely we’re starting with concrete work.”
MeClellan explained the boardwalk will be constructed on sections offsite and brought to staging areas. There will be minimal impact to the wetlands due to the way construction will be completed. The goal is to have the project completed by the time “snow flies” in October/November.