The Allen County Board of Commissioners, along with representatives from numerous agencies, officially opened the newest, and longest, section of the Pufferbelly Trail. At 4.3 miles, the completed stretch from Fitch Road to the existing trail by Life Bridge Church on Corbin Road was the longest piece of trail constructed at one time in Allen County in over a decade. Over 100 people attended the ribbon cutting event held at the trailhead behind Life Bridge Church. The preeminent theme shared by all speakers during the chilly morning ceremony was partnership.
Megan McClellan, Executive Director of Fort Wayne Trails, Inc. welcomed attendees and speakers. She explained that, “The Pufferbelly runs through multiple jurisdictions. It took a lot of cooperation and the working together of all the different groups involved.” But a helpful first step was in May 2019 when, “Governor Eric Holcomb announced that this section of trail would receive a 3.2 million dollar grant from the State of Indiana’s Next Level Trails Grant program administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.” She welcomed two DNR representatives as well as Huntertown’s Town manager, Beth Shellman, and town council members.
City of Fort Wayne Greenways & Trails Manager, Dawn Ritchie, explained how the different jurisdictions complete connecting trail sections that ultimately create one cohesive network. She shared that in 2024, Allen County would continue the trail from Fitch Road to the DeKalb County line, while the City of Fort Wayne would construct the section from Washington Center at Cookie Cottage to Glenbrook Commons at Lima Road and Ice Way. “At that point, the Pufferbelly should be finished by the end of next year!” She introduced the Allen County Commissioners stating that they “are by far the most supportive Commissioners of trail programs throughout the state.”
Commissioner Nelson Peters explained, “We work to create an inviting environment that includes economic development, but when you bring people to the community, they look at what the community has to offer. In Allen County we have this great trail that is going to create connectivity,” which increases the appeal of our community. Commissioner Therese Brown read part of the lyrics to the folk song “Down by the Station,” a song about pufferbellies, an old nickname for steam locomotives and the origin of the trail’s name. Commissioner Rich Beck was in attendance and helped cut the ribbon along with other guests.
Each speaker thanked and recognized the many groups and partnerships that made the trail happen. Some of those include the Allen County Highway Department and Sheriff’s Department, VS Engineering, Fleming Excavating, Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council (NIRCC), Fort Wayne Trails, Inc., City of Fort Wayne, Town of Huntertown, and the neighborhoods, businesses, and organizations along the trail route. Gratitude was given to the Indiana Trails Fund who, with great foresight, purchased and maintained two sections of the former New York Central Railroad line for the Pufferbelly Trail.
The Pufferbelly Trail is an essential part of the 81-mile long Poka-Bache Connector, a State Visionary Trail that will ultimately connect Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton, Indiana. The Pufferbelly Trail will run from the Dekalb County line to Lawton Park in downtown Fort Wayne, where it will meet the Rivergreenway and link to the rest of the 140-mile trail system. This section that opened on November 20th will connect residents and visitors to nature preserves, wetlands, a county park and to several neighborhoods.