Youth take part in the 2019 Pufferbelly 5k along the section of the Pufferbelly Trail around the Parkview Family YMCA.

HUNTERTOWN — Like many things in Fort Wayne, trail development has come to a rest during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Huntertown, that stagnation could continue after the state’s reopening, due to a separate issue with homeowners.

A planned section of the Pufferbelly Trail from Life Bridge Church off Corbin Road headed north has been delayed due to a holdup in getting signatures from residents in the Twin Eagles subdivision. Fort Wayne Trails has about half of the 158 signatures it needs to continue its trail through a common area in the neighborhood, Fort Wayne Trails Executive Director Megan McClellan told Huntertown Town Council members May 18. The organization needs about 66% of the 239 households within Twin Eagles to consent.

In order to keep the process going, Fort Wayne Trails plans to host a drive-through signing from 2-5 p.m. June 3 at Huntertown Town Hall, 15617 Lima Road, Huntertown. At least three notaries will be present, and volunteers will be provided with personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.

“One of the problems with getting people to sign before was not that they were unhappy with the trail, it was just that they didn’t have time. Now with everything shut down, it’s kind of an ideal time to do it,” McClellan said.

Fort Wayne Trails was confident it could forgo a friendly condemnation for the property because it had already secured signatures from 80% of residents in the Villas of Twin Eagles at the start of the project.

“Especially in the time of COVID, it’s that much more difficult,” McClellan said, adding that about half of the Twin Eagles residents Fort Wayne Trails has spoken with were aware of the planned trail prior to purchasing their homes. “Many of those people even said that the trail was the reason they bought in that neighborhood — they were super excited about it going in.”

McClellan said only about three homeowners have told the organization they were opposed to the trail’s construction.

“The people who are for it are very for it,” McClellan said. “We got probably 30 signatures right away from people who went out and found a notary.”

McClellan noted that there are five other trail projects currently in the works on the north side of town. One of the most extensive involves several improvements to Payton County Park on Dunton Road between Hathaway and Gump roads, which will be added through a DNR land and water grant. That project will include a half-mile paved loop connected to the Pufferbelly, as well as a trail hub complete with benches, picnic tables and a playground.

A small section of trail on Carroll Road from Pathway Community Church to the existing Pufferbelly has been put on hold by the county until the rest of the Pufferbelly is completed. Another federal-aid trail project on Carroll Road, east of Bethel Road to Millstone Drive, has been planned by Huntertown. That project is on track for construction in 2023, Huntertown Town Manager Beth Shellman said.

McClellan said about 90% of the design is completed on a trail along Union Chapel Road from Auburn Road to the Pufferbelly. However, the timeline on that project could be longer than expected, depending on whether or not another Next Level Trails grant will be offered this year as the state continues to focus its attention on COVID-19 relief.

The city of Fort Wayne is also working on closing a small gap in the trail on Dupont Road. Bidding for that project has been put on hold due to the delay in Indiana’s tax filing deadline.

Although COVID-19 has delayed construction projects, McClellan said trail use has doubled compared to this time last year.

“With gyms closed and everybody stuck home and a lot of people out of work, the trails have become very important for people’s mental and physical health,” McClellan said. “Some of the projects are on hold, but we’re still here.”

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