Township takes step toward trail projectPublished 10:27pm Monday, March 19, 2012
Niles Township has taken another step toward completing its 3.5 miles of what is hoped to become a 34-mile Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail that will connect Niles to Mishawaka.
The township board Monday unanimously approved for the park commission to submit a grant application to Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Marcy Colclough, senior planner at the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, which has helped spearhead the project, said much of the trail project will be covered by grant funding.
If approved for the grant, Niles Township would have to come up with 17 percent of the $830,000 price tag of phase one of the project with MDNR and MDOT covering the rest. Phase one is a four-mile stretch from the state line to the Brandywine Creek Nature Preserve.
Phase two, which would connect Brandywine Creek to the city of Niles’ trail, will cost about $611,000. The township would have to provide a 29 percent local match.
“MDOT and DNR are both very excited about this trail because it is the first bi-state trail in Michigan,” Colclough said.
The total cost for the township between both phases would be $319,000, some of which could be covered by fundraising and outside grants, according to Harry Thibault, park commission chairperson.
When completed, the trail will cross through four universities, 16 parks and four downtowns — Niles, Roseland, South Bend and Mishawaka.
Of the 34 miles of trail, there are gaps of four miles in Indiana and five miles in Michigan, Colclough said.
Township Treasurer Jim Ringler voted for submitting the application but warned that the project will need to be primarily fueled by fundraising and grants.
“It would not be fiscally responsible to drain the general fund for a trail project,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of fundraising.”
Trustee Dick Cooper agreed.
“We could have people saying, ‘You put thousands of dollars into a trail project and I can’t drive up and down my road safely?’” he said.
Thibault said the trail would be well worth the fundraising efforts and any investment from the township, citing a study that found that every dollar invested in trails brings $9 of economic development.
The grant application is due April 2.
The township will be notified by December or January if it has been awarded the grant. Construction could begin as soon as summer 2013, according to Colclough.
Colclough said the trail would rival the Kal-Haven trail, a 33.5-mile trail that connects Kalamazoo and South Haven.
“It would make Niles more of a destination,” she said.