Indiana was officially nicknamed "The Crossroads of America" in 1937. The nickname referred to the number of interstate highways that crisscross the state, specifically U.S. 40, which was the most traveled route from east to west across the country, and originally named The National Road. Indiana's transportation history also includes the numerous rail lines that operated in the state.
Although shipping by rail still exists, it isn't nearly as active as it once was in our nation's history. Thankfully, unused rail paths have been slowly turning into recreational and fitness paths around the country.
According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), the practice of converting old rail lines into walking and bike trails began in the mid-'60s in individual communities. Congress established a federal grant program in 1976 to assist in the conversion efforts. The RTC formally organized 10 years later as a resource for communities to plan, organize and apply for those federal dollars. Now in 2016, communities all over Indiana have worked with the RTC, the Hoosier Rails-to-Trails Council and other resources to enhance the local quality of life by creating beautiful trails throughout the Hoosier state.
Anyone who is anyone in Indianapolis is familiar with the Monon Trail, known as the Monon Greenway in Hamilton County. The 18.1-mile path goes from the heart of Downtown Indianapolis deep into Hamilton County with numerous places to park and connect and retail options all along the way.
But how familiar are you with some of the other rail trails that can take you from Indianapolis to other parts of the state or begin very close by in a neighboring county and lead off into unknown adventures?
Here are just a few favorites that help illustrate how Indiana could also be known as "The Cross-Trails of America.
Cardinal Greenway (EAST)
The longest rail-trail path in Indiana isn't really in the Indianapolis footprint. The Cardinal Greenway currently stands at 62 miles of path that once was a part of the Chicago-Cincinnati route for the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Rail Company. The path connects Richmond to Muncie and on north to Marion. Known as the Cardinal line, the railway was used for passengers and freight for the better part of 84 years. The line was rerouted in 1985 and eight years later officials started the Cardinal Greenways project. The trail is continuous from Richmond to Gaston where it moves for about 11 miles onto local roadways. The actual path picks up again in Gas City and continues through Marion. The trail moves through five Indiana counties, but planners envision a path that eventually runs the entire length of the original line from border to border, Ohio to Illinois.
Nickel Plate Trail (NORTH)
North Central Indiana is rich with rail history, so a rail-trail through that part of the state is a no-brainer. The Nickel Plate rail line earned its nickname from a newspaper article due to the competition between four railways to service it. The original line went from Indianapolis to Chicago by way of Peru in Miami County. Several railways operated the line from its inception in 1851 until the 1990s. In March 1999 the section that ran from Northern Howard County (Cassville) to Peru (Miami County) to Rochester (Fulton County) was rail-banked and bought by the Indiana Trails Fund. The trail provides 37 miles of paved path from Kokomo to Rochester.
Farm Heritage Trail (NORTH)
The Farm Heritage trail in Boone County boasts a great significance in Indiana history. The former route for Big Four Railroad connected Lebanon to Thorntown beginning in 1852. It is said that in 1861, then-president-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled the line on his way to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Parts of the trail are paved and parts are crushed stone so caution is advised when traveling the trail. With areas of the trail mirrored by a horse trail for recreational riders, the 10-mile route promises a variety of sights including Indiana corn and soybean fields, wooded areas and an iron bridge over Sugar Creek. Ideally, the trail could extend from Zionsville to Lafayette with support and development.
Vandalia Trail (WEST)
There is a grand plan in the works to create a trail across Indiana that reaches from Richmond to Terre Haute. Eventually the National Road Heritage Trail (NRHT) will mirror the path of U.S. 40 from border to border through the Hoosier state along the old Pennsylvania Railroad (Just like in Monopoly!). Communities along the path are developing various sections as they are able. One of the longest stretches of the NRHT is the Vandalia Trail, which follows the line from Plainfield to Greencastle for 16 miles. The name comes from the previous owner of the line before Pennsylvania RR came along. The trail does present some challenges — some sections are paved while others are crushed stone, dirt and even grass. The highlight of the trail is an elevated rail bed that leads to a trestle 30 feet above Crittenden Creek just outside of Coatesville. In Plainfield, the Vandalia Trail is connected to the city's bike path network by way of the White Lick Creek Trail.
Pennsy Trail (EAST)
Since it will also be a part of the National Road Heritage Trail, the Pennsy Trail gets its name from a nickname of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsy Trail covers nearly 10 miles of trail, but isn't continuous yet. The shortest segment is right here in Indianapolis. The one-mile trail begins and ends in Irvington. The middle segment stretches three miles across Cumberland. The third segment is the longest at six miles and runs from just east of Cumberland to Greenfield. Eventually the three segments will connect together and ultimately become a part of the NRHT — 150 miles of rail trail.