On any given day, no matter what the weather, the recently opened Wilbur Wright Trail is in use by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and bird-watchers. Because of the smooth, asphalt-surface trail, even local cross-country skiers and people in snow shoes are using it.
The early success of the trail, which starts near the Henry County YMCA and takes users to Ind. 103, has surprised even the most optimistic members of the Healthy Communities organization that worked so hard to see this long-awaited dream come true.
Early response to the trail revealed the hunger Henry County residents have had for such a place.
“I have been amazed at the amount of activity,” Henry County YMCA Executive Director Chris Williams said. “There is activity at all times of day and in any kind of weather.”
Mike Broyles, Henry County Community Foundation board member, said “The trail gives our community a new path for success – in more ways than one.”
“Manufacturers are seeking these quality-of-life attractions for their employees,” Broyles said. “I see it as a great benefit to Henry County.”
Trading his board room seat for a bicycle, Broyles has experienced the trail as a family man as well. He appreciates the safety and family values aspect this project has delivered.
“We’ve taken our grandkids out to ride bikes,” Broyles said. “I feel a lot safer out there, knowing if one of the kids happens to swerve suddenly, there’s no traffic to worry about.”
Foundation Support Impacts Community
Nearly a decade in the making, the Wilbur Wright Trail project took a lot of dedicated work to get it off the ground and the Henry County Community Foundation has been behind the project all the way.
“From day one, the Henry County Community Foundation has consistently supported us with grant help,” trail catalyst and number one enthusiast Jeff Ray said. “We would not have been able to accomplish what we have without their support.”
While most of the money for the trail came from a state grant, Ray said it was the Foundation that stepped forward to make possible $15,000 that helped complete construction. The Foundation also assisted in securing a $5,000 grant with the Duke Energy Foundation.
Today, it’s regarded as the best two-mile trail in Indiana.
That assessment comes not from a member of Henry County Healthy Communities, but Mario Vian, the state policy analyst for Hoosier Rails To Trails.
“It’s got to be my favorite trail right now,” Vian said. “I think the Wilbur Wright Trail is spectacular. This trail takes you by fields and a wooded area and an old railroad bed so it has an historical aspect to it. You go by actual farm fields and a river with a bend. The scenery changes often enough that you don’t get bored. It’s a jewel.”
A Trail for All Seasons
From his YMCA director’s chair, Williams smiles at the notion that skis and snow shoes have now joined basketballs as sporting goods equipment used during Henry County winters. Outdoor exercise year-round now involves more than just die-hard joggers and shoveling snow.
“It would be a great place for parents to take their kids, stop by the trail’s overview of Big Blue River and enjoy the scenery,” said Sheila Marion, one of many volunteers that have worked hard to keep the river clean. “People may be able to do some fishing along the trail. It’s another jewel in our crown.”
“It’s like a non-electric amusement park,” Vian said. “You don’t have to worry about installing a new ride. The seasons do that for you.”
Trail Creates Activity and Positive Results
Meanwhile, Williams says events utilizing the trail are already planned at the YMCA.
“I know we have a 5K, 10K and half marathons coming up on the trail,” Williams said. “I have heard about bird watchers walking the trail. Many people come to the Y at lunch, change, go run the trail, change again and go back to work.”
Open since late September in 2013, the trail has already become more than just a new place to congregate. It’s making a big difference in the lives of local residents.
“One person told me they’ve lost more than 30 pounds by walking the trail daily,” Ray said.
According to Vian, that testimonial backs up data showing obesity rates fall when there is access to such a trail nearby. “There is positive correlation between obesity mitigation and the proximity to trails.”
Vian offered high praise for all those in Henry County who made the Wilbur Wright Trail a reality, particularly Ray.
“It takes people like Jeff Ray who have the sticktuitiveness to see these things through,” Vian said. ”It takes someone with vision, patience and endurance. He’s a champion in this trail.”
Indeed, the light is green on the Wilbur Wright Trail, inviting young and old alike to join the fun. No brake lights in sight. The growing chorus of users in search of better health, stress relief, safety for their kids and even those elusive weight loss goals agree. There’s no stopping us now.
By Darrel Radford