While the beauty and allure of a mountain chain is undeniable, there is much more than corn in the flatlands of northeastern Indiana.
On Saturday, the American Hiking Society ( www.americanhiking.org) extends an invitation to celebrate our network of trails and waterways as part of National Trails Day by “hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, birdwatching and more.”
Begun in 1993 to educate Americans about our National Trails System, NTD advocates for use of local, regional and national trails, encouraging stewardship of those natural resources that enhance a community's health and well-being.
Since 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System into law, tremendous progress has been made in “transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails, ... allowing us access to the natural world for recreation, education, exploration, solitude, inspiration and much more,” the American Hiking Society says.
More than 200,000 miles of trails crisscross America, ranging from dirt paths in small county parks to long-distance rails-to-trails — old railroad beds converted to trails. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports more than 3,200 miles of trails in the state.
Fort Wayne boasts a 70-mile system of multiuse trails, 50 of which are connected. In 2011, three nonprofit trail groups merged to form Fort Wayne Trails ( www.fwtrails.org), which oversees the Rivergreenway and established trails in northwest and southwest Allen County. Officials hope to increase local trails to 150 miles within 10 years.
As our society becomes more sedentary, the health benefits of regular physical activity are increasingly necessary.
Walking and hiking reduce the risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, and induces feelings of well-being through the release of endorphins that diminish tension and anxiety. Other than a comfortable pair of shoes, water and (optional) bug spray, it's free.
Rivergreenway routes along the Maumee, St. Marys and St. Joseph Rivers are paved, mostly level and strikingly quiet. The Native Trees of Indiana Riverwalk on the IPFW campus, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E., provides an educational walk, showcasing a variety of native trees from 200-year-old specimens to recently planted seedlings. Parking areas dotted throughout the city provide easy access to the trails.
ACRES Land Trust ( www.acreslandtrust.org) offers hiking trails in many of its area preserves. Favorite ACRES trails include Bicentennial Woods and the Dustin and Vandolah nature preserves in northern Allen County.
Metea County Park, off Indiana 1 bordering Cedar Creek near Leo-Cedarville; Fox Island County Park at 7324 Yohne Road; and the Lindenwood Nature Preserve, 600 Lindenwood Ave., adjacent to Lindenwood Cemetery, offer a variety of trails, water features and terrains.
On Saturday, more than 1,200 cyclists spilled out of downtown Fort Wayne participating in the Fort4Fitness Spring Cycle. The number was a 20 percent increase over last year's inaugural event.
Each Tuesday evening from mid-May through Oct. 1, a Trek the Trails ride departs from a different location along the city's trail system for an 8- to 9-mile group bike ride (www.FWTrails.org/events). The rides average 70 people of all ages.
“The mayor started Trek the Trails four years ago as a way to showcase our trail system and to help residents learn more about parts of the trail they weren't familiar with,” says Frank Suarez, city of Fort Wayne public works public information officer. “It was a way to bring the community together ... to discover Fort Wayne in new ways ... (and) to reconnect citizens with nature and our rivers.”
The Rivergreenway, Towpath and Pufferbelly trails are popular with bicycling enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot ( www.fwoutfitters.com) located along the Greenway offers bike rentals says, Eden Lamb, manager.
“We rent cruisers, mountain bikes and road bikes for men, women and children,” Lamb says. “We even have one tandem.”
“We also rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards,” Lamb says, as employees assisted a group of young women lined up on the dock, anticipating an afternoon of kayaking. “Rental prices are affordable for college students.”
“I go three or four times a year,” says Alyssa Leeper, a University of Saint Francis student who is accompanied by friends from IPFW and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
On June 15, Allen County Parks offers a Canoeing Basics class from 9 a.m. to noon at Fox Island's Bowman Lake Shelter No. 1. The cost is $5, and preregistration is required by June 11. For more information, contact Michael Gobert at 449-3777 or mgobert@allencounty parks.org.
Lamb has seen an increase in interest in outdoor activities in her four years at Fort Wayne Outfitters.
“I think it's multigenerational,” she observes. “It's exciting to see the growth.”
Exercise, weight loss, better quality of life, opportunities for socialization and pure recreation are some of the benefits of outdoor activity, Suarez says.
Whether you take a twilight walk through your neighborhood, stroll along the St. Marys, tote binoculars to the Bicentennial Woods or break out the bike rack for a day trip down the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail near Middlebury (www.pumpkinvine.org), or the Cardinal Greenways 62-mile rail-trail (www.cardinalgreenways.org) near Muncie, take an opportunity to enjoy nature Saturday on National Trails Day.