GREENFIELD — After almost a year of discussions and planning, a 20-plus-year vision to connect Hancock County communities through trails will advance to the county commissioners for final consideration.
The Hancock County Area Plan Commission unanimously approved the county trails plan Tuesday, following a lengthy public hearing. More than 120 people, divided between support and opposition of the plan, crammed into the Commissioners’ Court at the Hancock County Annex, with many having to stand in the back of the room.
Those in favor of the plan spoke about the quality of life and health benefits of a robust trail system, while people against the project voiced concerns about invasion of privacy caused by trails in rural areas. The plan does call for some dedicated paths similar to the Pennsy Trail, but much of it envisions pedestrian- and bike-friendly lanes being added in various configurations to existing county roads.
The plan commission voted to remove a section of a Pennsy-style multi-use trail from the plan along County Road 600N, between McCordsville and County Road 200W, after hearing complaints from multiple property owners in that area. Now, the Hancock County Commissioners will soon vote on whether to revise the county trails plan.
Last month, the consultants on the project, Indianapolis-based Butler, Fairman & Seufert Civil Engineers and Health by Design, an initiative of Indianapolis nonprofit Alliance for Health Promotion, removed a proposed trail between County Roads 600N and 100N as a result of comments against the trail from Mohawk residents.
Consultants as well as county leaders have been working on the revision to the county’s 2012 trails plan since late 2017. The process has included several public meetings in Hancock County communities.
The trails plan was spurred because of Hancock County’s seven municipalities receiving a $25,000 grant from the Hancock County Community Foundation. Hancock Health, Hancock County Tourism, Hancock Economic Development Council and several other individuals and businesses contributed toward a $75,000 match for the project, Greenfield planning director Joanie Fitzwater said.
While the plan has been on the minds of many community leaders for almost a year, some people who attended Tuesday’s public hearing said they weren’t aware of the plan until recently. A few residents who live just east of McCordsville told plan commission members that they learned about the public hearing only a week prior, when a neighbor stuffed notices about the meeting in their front doors.
Barbara Olin, who lives in Mt. Comfort, said she didn’t receive any notice about the trails plan until two months ago. She’s afraid criminals from Indianapolis would use the trails if they’re built near her home.
“From Cumberland to Lawrence, over in that area, it’s a very high-crime area, drug area, and we are farmers and we don’t really want people walking through our back yards,” Olin said, meeting with applause from many in the crowd.
Dave Musick, who lives at the corner of County Roads 600N and 200W, near two sections of preferred multi-use trails shown on the plan, said he’s not in favor of any type of trail in the area.
“We moved to the country to get away from people. We didn’t move to the suburbs,” Musick told the plan commission members. “I don’t want people riding their bikes any more than necessary right up against my house and on the other side.”
Jason Griffin and Alan Hamersly, consultants with Butler, Fairman & Seufert, reminded the audience that the 20-plus-year trails vision isn’t “set in stone” and can change over time depending on future developments in the county. Hamersly said the plan isn’t a “right-of-way acquisition map.”
“There is no anticipation or intention of building all of these facilities soon,” Hamersly said.
Anna Pea, president of the Cumberland Town Council, said the town, straddled between Hancock and Marion counties, has 7 miles of trails. The last 4 miles, running north and south off the Pennsy Trail, connects with neighborhoods north of U.S. 40. She said because of the trail system, Cumberland has received more inquiries of late from interested developers.
“We’re going to have development no matter what happens,” Pea said. “People are going to sell their way in, and there’s going to be development. … Do we want high-quality development or not?”