Mar 10, 2023

READI Funds Deliver Trail Investment in Southern Indiana

In January, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will award $29.5 million to acquire and begin development of the 62.3-mile Monon South Trail that will cover five counties in Southern Indiana. Once complete, the Trail — part of Next Level Trails — will be the longest stretch of recreational trails in Indiana.  



“This project has been in the works since 2018, as a dream among leaders in the region,” he said. “That year CSX went through the process to begin the abandonment of 62 miles of rail line. Then the city of New Albany initiated the idea of having regional collaboration to take possession and convert the rail into a trail suite through five counties.”


Equally impressive is the fact that Next Level Trails is the largest infusion of trails funding in state history. The $150 million program is administered by the DNR and enables much needed trail connections within and between Hoosier communities. Next Level Trails funding will be dedicated to the design, engineering and construction of portions of the trail.

Even more exciting is that this project will take blighted areas and make them attractive to both residents and tourists. That’s because the Monon South Trail will follow the route of the historic Monon Railroad (most recently CSX’s infrastructure). This private railroad known as the New Albany & Salem Railroad (NA&S) connected New Albany to Michigan City. In 1956, the railroad officially adopted the iconic Monon Railroad name.

According to Jeff Quyle, president and CEO of Radius Indiana, this project represents an opportunity to transform the region and its inhabitants. Radius Indiana is a regional partnership representing eight counties in Southwest Central Indiana: Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Orange and Washington.

Quyle said the region is ripe for this kind of development. The DNR reviewed maps of access to trails and determined that the southern part of the state was lacking in this area. It was then that the agency bolstered its commitment to changing that narrative. 

“This trail, with the way it goes through so many communities, would put 440,000 Hoosiers within 10 minutes of a trail,” he said. “So it was really going to impact hundreds of hundreds of lives by offering an amenity that would improve public health, quality of life, tourism, etc. —  so many things. That was a big part of what they felt justified the state taking the unprecedented leadership in taking on the acquisition of this project.”

Quyle acknowledges that this project is not in a vacuum. For instance, Maren Witte’s organization Regional Opportunity Initiatives in Bloomington is committed to advancing this project. ROI is a nonprofit affiliated with the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County as a supporting organization. Witte, who serves as the READI project manager, said this is an exciting time for this corner of the state.  

“Four of the READI projects are in our region,” she said. “And so pretty early on, we were trying to prioritize different projects, and we identified the Monon South Trail as one.”

To that end, Witte said they allocated $1M of the $30M for this purpose. Following conversations with Quyle’s organization, ROI determined the best use of the funds was to help them with design and engineering work. A portion of that funding will be used for lot development and acquisition costs of the rail corridor, Witte said. 

“READI funds have greater flexibility than some of our other funds, so we were able to allocate part of the ready funding for real estate acquisition,” Quyle said. “Communities are going to need trailheads. So, this gives us a lot of money through READI that can be used for that purpose when other funding sources don't necessarily allow for that.” 

As for the timing, Quyle said that the design work will take place starting this year and will extend into next year. By mid-2024, he hopes to accept bids for construction, with a focus on getting construction underway within the municipal boundaries of the cities and towns along the route first. From there, they’ll expand the geographic area outside of those confines.