State OKs funding for Ligonier cultural trail

Article by Kelly Lynch of KPC Media

Ligonier plans to build the 5-mile Strawberry Valley loop in phases

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s official. The city of Ligonier will receive $248,920 in Regional Cities Initiative funding for the creation of the Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced Tuesday that it had completed the last step in the state funding process by formally approving the $1.27 million project, which previously was recommended by the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority in April as part of the region’s Road to One Million plan.

The IEDC also approved $976,636 in funding for the renovation of the Eagles Theatre in Wabash.

Ligonier’s trail is the last of three projects in Noble County to receive such news, after money for the Kendallville Outdoor Recreation Complex’s expansion and the development of the Fishing Line Trail from Rome City to Kendallville was approved in June.

“I think that it is great for the city of Ligonier,” Mayor Patty Fisel said Tuesday afternoon. “This is just a great thing. It’s so exciting. I think our trails are so unique in the fact that they are going to be connecting the focal points of our downtown.”

The Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail will be a 5-mile loop around and through the city’s downtown, expanding on the current Elkhart Riverwalk and placing every Ligonier resident within a half-mile of the trail.

The project will include the paving of paths and construction of boardwalks connecting downtown murals, statues and historical landmarks to the city’s five parks.

Bridging the gap between recreation and education, the trail will incorporate informational signs, benches and bike racks in the loop to allow visitors to both exercise and learn more about the history of the city. New crosswalks, signs and mile markers with the Strawberry Valley logo will help users find their way around the loop.

It also has the potential to connect to the Syracuse-Wawasee, Noble, Fishing Line and Pumpkinvine trails, making a regional network of paths.

“The transformational renovation of Eagles Theatre and the construction of the Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail will enhance the region’s arts, culture and recreation, supporting northeast Indiana’s vision of attaining one million Hoosier residents by 2020,” said IEDC President Elaine Bedel in a news release.

This funding is in addition to $480,000 committed by the Ligonier Redevelopment Commission and $300,000 over three years from the Noble County Economic Development Corp., which was contingent on Ligonier being awarded Regional Cities funding.

Fisel said the project will be broken down into three phases over the same number of years, with funding from both economic development organizations dispersed as each phase begins.

The plan is to start construction this year by widening the existing track at Kenney Park and adding a bicycle lane, Fisel said.

Then paving will begin near the original Elkhart Riverwalk, connecting to the bridge and into Pettit Park, she added. The year after, the project will move downtown.

“We want to make those connections first, and then everybody will be able to see what we’re actually trying to do,” said Fisel, who liked the idea of breaking the project into phases. “That gives us time to really make sure that we have our pathways going in the direction that we want them to.

“While it won’t be a rushed procedure, it will be better for the city.”