The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Allen County celebrated the opening of the Pufferbelly Trail extension this morning.
The 4.33-mile asphalt multi-use trail was constructed by Allen County with help from a $3.2-million Next Level Trails (NLT) grant. The award was announced by Gov. Eric J. Holcomb in May 2019 as part of the first grant round of NLT.
“This extension of the Pufferbelly Trail is a key connection – in the region and as part of our continued growth of trails across the state as part of the Next Level Trails initiative,” said Dan Bortner, DNR director.
The new trail extends the existing Pufferbelly Trail north from the Life Bridge Church Trailhead at Union Chapel Road to Fitch Road near the Allen County and DeKalb County line. The trail is a part of the planned Poka-Bache Trail, an 81.3-mile State Visionary Trail. The Poka-Bache Trail will ultimately connect Pokagon State Park in Angola to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.
In April 2022, the city of Fort Wayne received a round-three NLT grant to complete the final gap of the Pufferbelly Trail within Allen County. Once complete, the entire trail will extend more than 13 miles from downtown Fort Wayne to the county line.
"There are now over 140 miles of trail in Allen County creating a network of well-used active transportation and recreation opportunities,” said Megan McClellan, Fort Wayne Trails executive director. “This new 4.33-mile stretch of the Pufferbelly Trail will connect thousands of additional residents to this system, while also connecting to beautiful natural areas like Payton County Park and Willow Creek.”
As part of Gov. Holcomb’s Next Level Connections initiative, NLT is the largest infusion of trails funding in state history. The now $180 million program is administered by the DNR and facilitates critical trail connections within and between Hoosier communities. Including the Pufferbelly Trail, 31 of the 75 NLT projects are complete, totaling more than 95 miles of trail built since the program’s inception. An additional 10 projects are under construction, with many more slated to break ground during the next year.
In May, Gov. Holcomb announced details for the fourth round of NLT, which will dedicate an additional $30 million to connect communities through more hiking, biking, and riding trails across the state. The DNR anticipates awards to be announced next month.
More information about NLT is at on.IN.gov/NextLevelTrails.