Six months ago, I stepped into a new role as director of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County’s trails initiative.
Elkhart County is home, and I have a strong desire to see it take a more holistic approach to both transportation and wellness. Integrating activity into our daily lives is a recipe for longevity and community connectedness, and it shouldn’t require a gym membership or special gear.
Previously, I worked in the cycling industry for 11 years and in trail-building with the Friends of the Pumpkinvine for seven. I’m thrilled to be doing this work we’re calling “Connect in Elkhart County,” which is a product of months of collaboration and research with local stakeholders who share a similar vision.
In late 2019, the Community Foundation identified trails as an area of emphasis for its grantmaking and it was clear that we needed a countywide mobility and trails plan. Yard & Company, an urban planning firm out of Cincinnati, helped facilitate a process to gather more than 20 comprehensive infrastructure plans from across Elkhart County and merge them into a single document focused on trails and pathways. Mapping showed connecting points and gaps. Community Foundation leadership met with leaders and staff members from local cities and towns to gather feedback and listen to their challenges.
The resulting plan is robust and tells us what our goals should be, but does not address how the work should get done. Designing how, is the next task at hand. So we’re doing more strategic planning.
At a macro-level we are asking: How do we become a county where cycling and walking are safe forms of transportation? How do we connect cities to towns and neighborhoods to schools? How do we become proactive in our approach, rather than reactive? And at a micro-level we’ll determine what staff are needed and what procedures should be in place. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re making progress every day.
We’re always looking for hands-on champions and volunteers from our community. Check out our website for opportunities to take action or simply forward this email on to a friend! I look forward to seeing you on the path.