Phase II of Indiana Michigan River Valley Trail

NILES TOWNSHIP — While plans to begin phase II of the Indiana Michigan River Valley Trail were derailed last year, park officials are hoping to see the cross-state path open this summer.

“We really, really hope so,” said Jill DeLucia, the Niles Township Park Commission Chair. “The hope is that it would be done sometime this summer.”

DeLucia said construction for the trail is expected to be re-bid in February. If things go according to plan, construction will begin and wrap up this summer. The project was first put out for bid last summer, but due to the saturation of the construction market, all proposals received were over budget.

“For some extent [this was] because the bidding process took place so late in the year,” DeLucia said. “A lot of contractors were already booked.”

There was another previous hitch in the trail’s progress, too. To protect the roosting cycle of the northern long-eared bat during the summer of 2017 — trail officials had to delay cutting down trees.

The remaining 1.2-mile stretch of the Indiana-Michigan River Valley that makes up phase two of the project will mark Michiana and Indiana’s first cross-state trail. The path will connect the Indiana State Line to Brandywine Nature Park, just north of U.S. 12. The trail is also planned to join the city’s trail at Fort and Third Streets.

DeLucia said plans to create a trailhead park where the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail crosses Ontario Road is among the discussed amenities for the trail. DeLucia said they are considering applying for grant funding to assist with the cost of the trailhead potentially.

“Our hope is to have a true trailhead park,” DeLucia said. “something that has ample parking,  a water station, a little bike fix-it station, shelter – amenities like that.”

With the Indiana portion of the trail completed last year, DeLucia said the Park Commission has felt some pressure to finish the trail so that Indiana and Michigan residents alike can enjoy the path continuously.

“When you connect all the trails, it’s just natural that people are going to come north,” DeLucia said.

DeLucia is an avid bike rider. In the township, she said there currently are no places just for bikers to ride and take in the scenery of the area, but the trail is expected to change that. Completing the trail for that purpose is a big motivator, she said.

Phase two of the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail was chosen to receive grant funding by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board in 2017. Funds from MDOT, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund and local funds from the township are contributing to the project.

Last year, the Benton Harbor-based Wightman was selected by township trustees to help engineer the trail.

DeLucia said she looks forward to seeing progress on the trail continue this year.

“We’ve already secured funding and agreed on the design for the trail, the pathway it’s going to take and all that,” DeLucia said. “We just have to go through the final steps. Get a contractor and get it built.”

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