A new, 29-mile marked biking route on scenic country roads now connects two major northern Indiana trails that run parallel to each other, both of which are about an hour’s drive south of South Bend.
The Panhandle Pathway crosses the Tippecanoe River and runs 22 miles from Winamac south to the tiny burg of Kenneth.
And the Nickel Plate Trail runs 37 miles south from Rochester, with 3.4 miles of on-street route through a roughly midway point in Peru and, further south, ultimately connects with the Kokomo Industrial Heritage Trail into Kokomo — in all, a one-way trip of 44 miles.
Both trails have been drawing out-of-town visitors, but now the new connector route between the two trails offers “more options” for weekend adventures and trips, says Mike Kuepper, president of the nonprofit group that built and maintains the Nickel Plate.
The connector route has been in the works for a few years.
“Until we can build a non-motorized recreational trail connecting the two trails, this on-road connector route is the best we can do,” says John Bawcum, president of the friends group that built and maintains the Panhandle Pathways. “It will at least get people moving between the two trails. It’s a start.”
The connector bike route runs from the southern trailhead of the Panhandle Pathway at Kenneth, goes east through Logansport, where it follows scenic parts of the Eel and Wabash rivers, including the Little Turtle Waterway Trail and stops by Huston Park (restrooms and water fountain). Then the route threads its way further east and, after several miles, traces the Wabash River again until the route lands in Peru, where it connects with the Nickel Plate Trail.
Kuepper says it’s mostly flat, with a few hills, though it’s a scenic ride by farms and woods and the rivers. It’s on county roads that generally have light car traffic.
There are signs at every turn to point you to either the Nickel Plate or the Panhandle Pathway, depending on which direction you’re headed. And there’s a map and turn-by-turn cue sheets, which you’ll find attached to my column online.
With all of those miles, what overnight adventures or long day trips can you imagine?
Kuepper already sees people coming 50 or more miles to ride the Nickel Plate — from South Bend, Fort Wayne, Lafayette — including a recent group from Chicago, a group of teachers from Indianapolis (where the Monon Trail can get crowded) and about 50 Amish folks from the Elkhart County area who stopped him to ask for directions through Peru (they were staying overnight somewhere in Rochester).
He says you can find motels in Peru, Rochester and Logansport. And campgrounds range from Tippecanoe River State Park, five miles north of the Panhandle Pathway in Winamac, to France County Park, less than one mile south of the trail. The state campgrounds on Mississinewa Lake are about eight miles east of the Nickel Plate on roads.
Peru boasts the Circus City Museum. Logansport has the indoor Dentzel Carousel at historic Riverside Park.
Almost all of our area trails are seeing more use this year, thanks to the pandemic, but these two rural trails still have lots of distance between humans.
Kuepper adds, “We have something the big cities don’t: uncrowded trails.”
The Panhandle Pathway is still trying to link to the Tippecanoe River and France parks at its ends.
Kuepper says Peru hopes to build a separate trail through Peru to replace the Nickel Plate’s on-street routes. And organizers are in the early stages of getting land, plans and money to build a link from the Nickel Plate to the state’s longest trail, the 61-mile Cardinal Greenway through Muncie. It would run from Bunker Hill (near Grissom Air Force Base) east to another linking trail in Converse, Ind. These trails would become part of the 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail from coast to coast across the U.S., of which half is already done in existing trails.
• Panhandle Pathway: The Winamac trailhead is at an old train depot at Main and Logan streets in downtown. Map and details at panhandlepathway.org.
• Nickel Plate Trail: To reach the Rochester trailhead, take Ninth Street east of downtown, then go south on Wabash. It’s just north of Mitchell Street. Map and details at nickelplatetrail.org.
• Connector bike route: Signs point the way at each turn. Map and turn-by-turn directions are attached to this column online. Also, find printed directions in a plastic box at the Panhandle Pathway trailhead in Kenneth where the route begins. A similar box at the Nickel Plate trail juncture is expected in the next two weeks.
Inspired by water
• Dugout canoes and lore: Learn how dugout canoes were historically made from the bark of elm trees in a free workshop that will be both live from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Syracuse Community Center, in the Syracuse Community Center, 1013 N. Long St., Syracuse, Ind., and online via Zoom. It will be led by Erik Vosteen, who’s built several dugout canoes and has been teaching about watercraft of the prehistoric Great Lakes area for more than a decade. Also, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, learn about “Prehistoric weapons, tools and adornments of Native Americans” from Jim Bickel and Michelle Edington, who will bring more than 200 artifacts from their many years of collecting and studying. And from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Trevor Tipton will talk about “Legends, Lore and Legacies of Northeast Indiana Natives,” after which there will be a demonstration of flintknapping. For more information and how to participate online via Zoom, visit syracusemuseum.org.
• East Race finale: Two days are left of the whitewater rafting season on South Bend’s East Race Water Way. Raft from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday and Sept. 13. Cost is $6 for one ride, $10 for two and $15 for three. Book them at eastracewaterway.gr8.com. You must wear rubber-soled shoes with heel straps.
• Boat Church: Tri Lakes Community Church will hold its final on-water church service of the season on Sunday, where folks float in on whatever kind of boat on Long Lake east of Union, Mich. The half-hour service and music, now in its eighth season, is led from a boat beginning at about 9 a.m. in “lake time.” The boat ramp is at 69887 Sunset Blvd., 2.2 miles east of Union. Turn south on Sunset from U.S.12 and go a quarter mile to a narrow dirt road on the left that leads to the ramp. Parking is tricky. On the water, head south (right) through the narrow curve to the middle bay, where boats will gather to the northeast.
• Survey for trails, etc.: Take a 10- to 15-minute online survey so that the Indiana Department of Transportation can help local communities to plan for active transportation like trails, sidewalks, bike routes, bus transit stops and pedestrian crossings. Fill out the survey by Sept. 16 with a link to it in this column online.
• Beach reopens: The Lake Michigan beach at Michigan City’s Washington Park has reopened but only for LaPorte County residents who have a valid 2019 or 2020 beach sticker. Mayor Duane Parry last week softened his executive order from mid-July. Visitors must wear a mask, but not if the mask gets wet or you’re doing strenuous activities like jogging. The beach is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT but without lifeguards.
• Portage beach: The beach at Indiana Dunes National Park’s Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk area is closed for at least the next two weeks while crews replenish the shoreline sand with sand dredged from other sites, an effort to repair the damages of erosion. The public can watch the heavy equipment at work from the the pavilion and also visit the breakwater, riverwalk, hiking trails and the on-site food stop.
• Oops: The Love Biketober Fest, which won’t happen this fall, is a fundraiser for Love Creek County Park and the Bike Michiana Coalition. I mistakenly wrote last week that the event benefits the park and a local mountain bike group. Duh. I knew this.