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A hall of fame trail

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GOLDEN AFTERNOON: A cyclist approaches the Tenth Street crossing on the Cardinal Greenway on Friday.
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ON THE GO: A cyclist crosses under "D" Street on the Cardinal Greenway on Friday.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

Indiana’s Cardinal Greenway Trail, which covers 62 miles and connects Marion, Muncie and Richmond, has been announced as the 32nd honoree of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) Hall of Fame.

According to RTC Vice President of Communications Brandi Horton, trails under consideration for Hall of Fame induction must meet several criteria, including upstanding scenic value, trail use, amenities, historical significance and community value. Trails are nominated internally by RTC staff. A list of finalists is then opened up to one week of public voting online. The 2018 finalists received over 11,000 votes; the Cardinal Greenway Trail won by over 50 percent.

Induction into the Hall of Fame will provide recognition and spread the word for the Cardinal Greenway Trail, according to the RTC Midwest Regional Office Director of Trail Development, Eric Oberg. The honor puts the trail in an elite national group as one of only 32 Hall of Fame trails.

“It’s a testament to 25 years — you know, decades of work — from people in these communities,” Oberg said. “There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears these people put in over the years. … This is just one more validation that what they’re doing is appreciated, is recognized and is really important … on a regional and national scale.”

The Cardinal Greenway Trail, unique in being one of a handful of trails in the United States that is maintained by a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is the longest of four trails managed by Cardinal Greenways, Inc. CEO Angie Pool said these trails can bring significant benefits to the communities they pass through.

Beyond the opportunity for exercise and physical activity, the Cardinal Greenway helps the Marion, Muncie and Richmond economies as trail users shop at local businesses and restaurants. The 2017 Indiana Trails Study Cardinal Greenway Report, published by the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, found that users of the Cardinal Greenway Trail spend $4,528 on average annually on trail-related expenses — nearly $1,000 more than the state average.

Maintaining these trails can prove to be a challenge. Horton has found that trails which cross county or town lines can vary in quality and upkeep as strategies and standards lack consistency across jurisdictions. That’s one reason she appreciates the Cardinal Greenway Trail; Cardinal Greenways, Inc. has utilized volunteers and community leaders to care for the trail as a unified team, organizing events along the trail and ensuring people use and value the trail.

“Continuity and leadership of one group across 62 miles … is key to keeping the trail healthy,” Horton said. “The most important thing about this trail is just how spectacular it is in connecting these small towns and suburbs in a way that sometimes … can be overlooked.”

According to Pool, the most pressing challenge in maintaining the Cardinal Greenway Trail is aging infrastructure. The multi-use trail is paved; some portions of it are 20 years old, and the asphalt needs replacing and repairing. Cardinal Greenways, Inc. is working to raise the funds for these needed improvements and establish a maintenance schedule that prioritizes the areas with the most need.

The organization is proud of what it has accomplished in 25 years and looks forward to a bright future. Induction into RTC’s Hall of Fame is the result of dedicated Hoosiers working together to achieve visionary goals, Pool said.

“This national honor will help in our quest to keep our trail in the shape our thousands of annual trail users have come to enjoy and expect,” she said. “... becoming a Hall of Fame Trail boosts our motivation to continue our hard work to keep our trail in place for generations to come.”