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The DNR, Next Level Trails (NLT) and Prairie Trails Club, Inc. (PTC) opened a newly completed segment of the Erie Trail in Starke County today.

The 2.1-mile asphalt trail extends the 9.3-mile Erie Trail, which is named for the former Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, east along the former rail corridor from U.S. 35 to Starke County Road S 700 E, near the unincorporated community of Ora. The trail is for pedestrians and bicyclists. An adjacent natural surface trail allows equestrian use.

The extension was made possible with a $390,750 NLT grant to PTC, a non-profit organization responsible for managing and maintaining the Erie Trail. Partners in the project include the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, the Greenways Foundation, Starke County Community Foundation, Starke County Highway Department, and the Luminous Fund.

“We’ve seen trails benefit communities across Indiana,” said Mike Smith, DNR Chief of Staff. “The Next Level Trails program is proud to partner with organizations like the Prairie Trails Club to invest in Hoosiers’ quality of life.”

The Erie Trail is part of the Great American Rail-Trail, a planned route organized by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) from Washington D.C. to Washington state. Including the extension of the Erie Trail, approximately 55% of the Great American’s 214 planned miles across Indiana are now complete.  

“The Erie Trail is an important resource for Starke County, and as part of the Great American Rail-Trail, we are eager to welcome visitors from across the country, said Carolla Heilstedt, PTC president. “We are grateful to the Next Level Trails program and all of our supporters for making this extension a reality.”

Eric Oberg, RTC midwest regional director, praised the trail and its role in helping make the Hoosier state a key part of the Great American.

“Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is excited to celebrate progress toward the completion of the Great American Rail-Trail with the Prairie Trails Club,” he said. “With Governor Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Trails program and the General Assembly’s growing support for trails, Indiana has emerged as a leader in the national trails movement.”

In addition to being part of the Great American, the Erie Trail is part of the American Discovery Trail and U.S. Bike Route 35.

As part of Gov. Holcomb’s Next Level Connections initiative, NLT is the largest infusion of trails funding in state history. The $150 million program is administered by the DNR and facilitates critical trail connections within and between Hoosier communities.

PTC was awarded funding for the Erie Trail extension as part of the first round of NLT, which was announced by Gov. Holcomb in May 2019. To date, NLT has awarded nearly $54.3 million to 35 projects across the state to facilitate the development of more than 100 miles of new trail. Including the Erie Trail, six NLT projects are complete.

Applications for the third round of NLT are due to the DNR by Dec. 1. The third round includes funding for up to $35 million for local and regional trails. More information about NLT is at

RTC is a non-profit working to create a nationwide network of trails. RTC joined the Erie Trail celebration as part of its Indiana’s Year of the Trails kick-off celebration. More information about the Great American is at

More DNR news releases are at

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