Step by step: Monon South Trail on path to completion

Spring has arrived in the Indiana Uplands. Uplanders know springtime is one of the best seasons to stroll along a trail, enjoying all the natural beauty the region offers.

Soon, Uplanders and visitors alike will have the opportunity to take extended walks through multiple communities without leaving a path along the Monon South Regional Trail. Regional Opportunity Initiatives awarded Radius Indiana READI funding for engineering design and construction management of the trail, which will extend from Clark County through Washington County and portions of Orange and Lawrence Counties.

According to Headwaters Economics and American Trails, adding a trail to a community has many benefits, including improving physical and mental health, boosting property values, and bolstering connections within the community. 

Those benefits will be multiplied when the Monon South Trail goes through multiple communities, creating a regional trail connection that has yet to be experienced in the Indiana Uplands.

The proposed 57-mile Monon South Regional Trail will begin in Mitchell before winding down from Lawrence County and connecting to eight communities in Orange, Washington, and Clark Counties. Monon South is a rails-to-trail path, meaning it will be built on a former railroad line and eventually extend over 60 miles from Bedford to New Albany’s South Monon Freedom Trail, making it the longest recreational trail in the state.

The greenway trail will feature dramatic vistas of Indiana farmland and linkages to several regional natural destinations, including state parks and recreation facilities, according to the Monon South Trail website.

New trailheads will be in six towns in the Uplands: Mitchell, Orleans, Salem, Campbellsburg, Saltillo, and New Pekin. A trailhead is also planned for Borden in Clark County. Parking will be available at each trailhead. The first phase of the trail will include approximately 20 miles.

Recently, ROI caught up with Radius Indiana’s President and CEO, Jeff Quyle, to get an update on the project’s progress.

Q: What is the timeline for the completion of the trail?

A: Thanks to the funding we have from READI and the Indiana Next Level Trails program, we have better resources than most new start-up trail projects. We expect that we’ll be able to construct roughly 20 miles of trail by this time next year, giving residents in seven different communities new trails that will be recreational and tourism assets.

Q: What is the current status of the trail?

A: The Monon South Trail is in the final stages of the detailed engineering design work needed to guide construction. We have several bridges that need new decking, for example. Building a trail requires more than simply laying a strip of asphalt on the ground. With the design work expected to be completed by mid-April, we hope to take bids from contractors in May, which could lead to construction beginning as early as June or July. 

Q: Can you explain the funding sources for this project? 

A: The work on the Monon South Trail will be carried out through the use of three different funding sources. We have Next Level Trail funding from the Department of Natural Resources, we have READI funds from the Indiana Uplands via ROI, and we have funds from Radius Indiana. Some funds have restrictions, so we have to allocate our different parts of the overall project to the different funds according to eligibility. The READI funds provide more flexibility than the Next Level Trail funds, for example. READI funds give us the resources that we can use for part of the trail construction, but they also help us to install trailhead amenities that wouldn’t be covered by Next Level Trails, so we can enhance the quality of place experience residents and visitors will perceive at the trailheads. Together, READI, Radius, and Next Level Trails provide about $25 million for use; however, the estimated total cost of the trail will be in the neighborhood of $70 million, so we will leave the majority of the trail unconstructed until we find the next source of funding.

Q: What do you hope this trail will do for the region? 

A: We are confident that the Monon South Trail will be a wonderful enhancement of the quality of life and place for the people who live in communities along the trail, giving them a new place to take their daily walks and runs or to meet their friends for a stroll. The trail will also improve property values for the areas nearby, giving local property owners more value in their homes and businesses. The trail also becomes a ‘spine’ that new trails can be built to connect to, and the trailheads can become additional parks for residents. The trail will also bring visitors who will want to explore local businesses – existing businesses will have the opportunity to thrive and new businesses will emerge to fill new demands.

Q: What is the role of Radius Indiana in the Monon South project?

A: Radius is extremely fortunate to be trusted with the role of being the steward for the Monon South Trail. We are using 100% of the grant funds from READI and NLT to design and construct the trail, and we’re using our resources to build the extra layers of preparation our community leaders can use to embrace the growth opportunities the trail brings. We’re weaving together community development, economic development, infrastructure investment, and public engagement to offer a menu of tools for getting extra bang for the buck out of the trail’s arrival.

Q: How can people follow along on the progress of the trail? 

A: We have set up a Monon South Trail page on Facebook that gives regular updates, and we have periodic public meetings in communities along the trail.