BROWNSBURG — Buoyed by a new Bicentennial Nature Trust grant, the B&O Trail is back on the expansion path. The funds will be used to connect what right now is the trail’s biggest gap, which is near the tunnel under Ronald Reagan Parkway connecting Brownsburg and Avon.
The Bicentennial Nature Trust was announced earlier this year in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ State of the State address and is a summation of $20 million to be used for conservation projects in every corner of the state. There were 14 applicants and the B&O Trails Association was one of 12 who were accepted.
“I said hallelujah,” said B&O Trails Association President Diana Virgil upon hearing they had received the grant. “This is just a purchase, so the first thing Brownsburg and the BOTA need to decide is how we are going to buy it, according to INDOT standards or not. But this is one of the questions we always get, when are you going to connect the two?”
The grant will be used to connect the mile gap just outside the tunnel to County Road 300 North and then another 3/4 of a mile west.
“We apply for anything that’s out there and occasionally get it,” Virgil said. “Any time we hear that money is available for land purchase, we definitely apply.”
The group received $155,950, which Virgil says is about half of what they need. They will independently raise the rest.
“We are still in the process of raising funds,” Virgil said. “This will be the major connection to the Ronald Reagan Parkway when it’s built.”
Virgil said the Nature Trust can be applied for quarterly, until all of the money designated to be given is gone. No application can exceed $300,000.
“This is wonderful,” Virgil said. “Mitch has done a wonderful job. When we gave our presentation (for the grant) and we talked about it, Mitch Daniels had put money into part of that. I’m actually very impressed that he has put so much emphasis on land for public use.”
Phil Parnin, director of the Brownsburg Parks and Recreation, said he’s excited about what the grant will mean for residents of the town.
“The grant that B&O was able to get obviously helps us further the number one unmet need in our community and that’s trails and connectivity,” Parnin said. “That’s why establishing a partnership between the B&O and Brownsburg Parks and Recreation was important. I think we’re both striving to accomplish addressing the unmet needs, as far as connectivity and trails. Obviously, the B&O has a farther reaching benefit to overall Hendricks County than we do, so when our missions align and the purpose by which we are driven, it only makes sense to partner and pool resources.”
The gap to be completed is one of the more picturesque, community-involved aspects of the trail. The tunnel is adorned with painted works of art in sections by members of the community. Tri-West students have painted part of it and Brownsburg and Avon students have a section to be completed as well.
In addition to the headway made in connectivity in Hendricks County, Virgil said the goal is to push connections to Speedway and Marion County, something she says has been on the minds of trail patrons since the 1990s.
“We have so many people say ‘I want to be able to ride my bike to work in Speedway and downtown,’” she said. “You’ve got to connect to the population in Marion County. We want to connect all of the trails. We can connect to the Eagle Creek Trail eventually. It’ll be wonderful for people that want to walk and ride their bikes.”
They’re already off to a good start. The group was awarded Thursday afternoon with a $5,000 check from the Hendricks County Community Foundation to put toward the purchase.