A train roars its whistle at the western end of the new Singing Sands Trail as I begin to ride alongside the cargo-hauling monster. Just behind me, motor vehicles wait on the train on County Line Road, between LaPorte and Porter counties. And just beyond that, the 9-mile Calumet Trail begins as a two-track gravel path — sometimes waterlogged — and heads the other way between U.S. 12, the railroad tracks and the Indiana Dunes National Park.
But I am riding into Michigan City, skimming close to NIPSCO’s beige tower that billows steam at its electric generating station. My head cocks back to look up at it.
By the time I reach the eastern end of the Singing Sands Trail — a total of about four paved miles that was dedicated this month — I’ve rolled over a series of bridges across Trail Creek and the green watershed around it. All of this is a segment in the ongoing project to build a trail connecting Chicago to New Buffalo that’s called the Marquette Greenway. Out of 60 miles, 34 have been built or have funding to build it, and a federal grant, if approved, could help to pave the other 26 miles.
About five more miles of trail have yet to be built at the eastern end of the Singing Sands Trail, which would take it to the Michigan border.
For now, it’s a curious ride gaining access to Michigan City’s water and its arts district.
With NIPSCO’s tower behind me, the trail seems to halt at a railroad crossing just shy of Wabash Street. The trail actually continues on the other side of the tracks. There isn’t a sign to tell you this, but, for now, trail users must venture along gravel by the side of busy U.S. 12, which lacks a paved shoulder, so they can reach the rest of the trail just a few yards away. This is a huge safety concern. If you make this connection, do so with extreme caution.
The city, which built the trail, desperately wants to build a trail crossing here but is waiting on Amtrak, which owns the tracks, for the final design and costs, Michigan City Parks Assistant Superintendent Shannon Eason says. Until then, she cannot offer a time frame for building it.
The city has been negotiating with Amtrak for several years on the crossing. She says the city set aside $446,000 for it, though estimates from Amtrak have ranged from $200,000 to $1.3 million. Mitch Barloga, the active transportation manager for the Northwest Indiana Planning Commission, laments that Amtrak’s delay, apparently over safety and legal worries, is “inexcusable” and is now creating worse safety risks.
The trail picks up by a parking lot and a tiny stand that has been there nearly four years, called A Slice of Heaven, where you can buy pie, ice cream and hotdog and bratwurst sandwiches. It opens from 10:30 a.m. Central time to sundown daily, and the owner expects to do so through December, then maybe go to a couple of days a week.
The trail then passes by the courthouse, city hall and streets that reach the Washington Park beach and the Uptown Arts District. At Michigan Boulevard, it turns right and passes Charles R. Wescott Park, where a series of community-made tiles line concrete benches. Further on, the trail passes the dry-dock boats at Trail Creek Marina.
The concrete path then angles toward Hansen Park with its handicapped-accessible canoe and kayak launch. That launch allows an easy out-and-back paddle on Trail Creek, either past big pleasure boats to Lake Michigan or, in the other more peaceful direction, to Friendship Botanic Gardens (volunteers with the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association keep that section cleared of logs, though on Monday I reported a new blockage near the gardens).
From Hansen Park, the trail follows the older pavement of the Trail Creek Greenway, stopping by Winding Creek Cove with parking and dirt hiking trails that lead through woods to a couple of fishing spots.
A foot bridge crosses Trail Creek. And then the trail links with a newly constructed boardwalk over sloping terrain, more pavement between the wooded river and grassy slopes of a former landfill, then two more elevated boardwalks.
The trail ends at the road Liberty Trail, across from Krueger Memorial Park. When the trail is extended, it will wind by the Friendship gardens and eventually follow the side of U.S. 12. until it reaches Michigan.
Within the next couple of months, Barloga expects to hear from the U.S. Department of Transportation whether the region will win a $23.1 million RAISE grant to build the trail to Michigan. Among the 26 miles of various trail gaps it would fill, the grant also would be used to reroute the Calumet Trail through Indiana Dunes on pavement that won’t flood. Read more about the plans in the grant application, linked in this column online.
Singing Sands Trail
Find a trail map in this column online. Here are access points from west to east.
• Calumet Trail head: On County Line Road just south of U.S. 12.
• Wescott Park: U.S. 12 and Michigan Boulevard.
• Hansen Park: 100 E St. From Michigan Boulevard south of U.S. 12, turn east on Eighth Street, then left on E Street.
• Winding Creek Cove: Eighth and Dickson streets. From Michigan Boulevard, follow Eighth east to this park.
The Buchanan Area Recreation Board seeks the public’s input on a five-year plan for park improvements in the city of Buchanan and Buchanan Township, which ranges from McCoy Creek Trail to Pears Mill to Madron Lake. Fill out an online survey with 10 questions by Oct. 31 at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ParksBuchanan.
Follow Outdoor Adventures columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures. Contact him at 574-235-6158 or email@example.com.