Despite pulling in donations through its Pufferbelly 5K even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges on, Fort Wayne Trails’ completion of the Pufferbelly Trail still hinges on a large majority of support from residents in Huntertown’s Twin Eagles neighborhood.
Fort Wayne Trails needs to secure signatures from 66% of the 254 households within the subdivision in order to move forward with the project — or else risk losing a $3.3 million Next Level Trails grant it received for construction of the Pufferbelly nearly a year and a half ago. Fort Wayne Trails plans to construct a section of the Pufferbelly through Twin Eagles. The trail currently stops at a trail head behind Life Bridge Church west of Corbin Road. The plan is to extend that north through Huntertown’s corporate limits.
So far, only 87 Twin Eagles households — about 34% of the total — have lent their support to the project. Some of those agreements were signed during a recent drive-through signing event at Huntertown’s Town Hall, and members of the Town Council continue to encourage residents to sign in support of the trail’s construction.
Megan McClellan, Fort Wayne Trails’ director, said the grant requirements prevent the project from being completed in separate phases. Although there is no hard deadline set, Huntertown Town Manager Beth Shellman said the town would like to help Fort Wayne Trails secure all the needed signatures by the Huntertown Town Council’s Sept. 21 meeting.
“I think that would give the county plenty of time to bid it out before next spring,” Shellman said.
McClellan told members of the Huntertown Town Council during a meeting July 20 that some residents have decided not to sign the agreement with hopes of Fort Wayne Trails diverting the trail away from their neighborhood, and instead constructing it along Dunton Road. McClellan said that is not a possibility, as it would require relocating a cemetery.
If the project does not receive its 66% approval, the town of Huntertown may have to enforce imminent domain to complete the section of trail — an avenue McClellan said the Twin Eagles Homeowners Association has said it would support.
“The only other option would be for the entire trail to not happen,” McClellan said. “We would lose $3.3 million that the state has given to this section of trail, so it kind of needs to happen.”
On July 18, Fort Wayne Trails hosted its annual Pufferbelly Run, Walk and Stroll at the Parkview Family YMCA, utilizing sections of the Pufferbelly Trail. Registration costs for the event directly support trail growth and development within Fort Wayne. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some participating teams chose to run or walk 3.1 miles “virtually” offsite. Twenty individuals including Huntertown employees, residents and elected officials walked the distance July 17 through the town’s downtown area and the Huntertown Family Park.