The beautiful 22-mile-long Panhandle Pathway stretches from Winamac all the way south to Kenneth. It connects the communities of Star City, Thornhope, and Royal Center along the paved surface.
The trail, once a part of a former Pennsylvania Railroad corridor, has a rich history that continues to develop as others make it a place to grow and play.
It’s important for communities to remember that trails don’t just show up, or their preservation isn’t a natural process. Trails require hard work and collaboration. John Bawcum, president of the Panhandle Pathway, is a focal component of the creation of the Pulaski County Community Development Commission, the group that encouraged the installation of the Panhandle Pathway.
“We started as a group back in 2005 and immediately started working on the trail. It’s only been growing since and is now 22 miles long, leading all the way to State Road 14,” Bawcum said.
The Indiana Trail fund corporation in Indianapolis purchased and railbacked the railroad in 2005 and approached the Pulaski County Community Development Commission, wondering if they would be interested in developing the trail.
“At that time the railroad tracks and ties had been pulled out and it was just empty,” Bawcum said. “When a railroad leaves, it normally just sits there and gets overgrown with brush and trees, or through a difficult process it goes back to the original owners. We wanted to make it look a lot more attractive.”
One of the first members on the Pulaski County Community Development Commissions, Tom Anspach, has been a member of the board and stayed active ever since.
“At a Pulaski County Community Development Commission meeting, Richard Vonnegut or the Indiana Trails Fund from Indianapolis was there talking about how the railroad had been rail banked,” Anspach said. “I thought it was interesting. At the time, I wasn’t riding bikes, only motorcycles. I actually bought a used bike just for the pathway.”
The Friends of the Panhandle Pathway, Inc. has a board of directors and an officer team of about eight people. Over 50 volunteers and members help maintain the upkeep of the trail over the seasons.
The Panhandle Pathway exists solely from money raised at their unique events, such as bike rides, community meals, and other fundraisers throughout the year.
“Moonlight over the Tippy”, the Pathway’s iconic summer bike ride is about 10 miles down to Thornhope and back, about 20 miles total. The ride includes complimentary pizza from Tippy's Pizza. The money raised goes toward trail maintenance and operation, such as repairs and appliances to keep the trail clean.
The second ride, “Tippecanoe and Bicycles too!”, is as long or short a ride as desired since the maximum distance is 65 miles, crossing the Tippecanoe River 6 times. All proceeds also go toward trail maintenance. Both rides bring people from near and far, including Chicagoans.
“It’s very expensive to build and maintain a trail. The trail itself was provided through grants through state, federal or individual donation. Funds maintaining the trail just do not exist on their own,” Bawcum said.
Anspach also stressed the importance of volunteers and their contributions.
“To maintain the trail takes effort. There is a continual compromise between the view to keep it as natural as possible but also maintain it as a park. We don’t want it to be a park exactly, but we don’t want it to grow too wild, either. Our team finds the perfect balance,” Anspach said.
The Panhandle Pathway maintenance committee checks all conditions of the trail daily, ridding it of any vandalism, clearing branches when it gets too windy, and maintaining all aspects promptly.
The trail has continued to be a community outlet for a place to walk, bike, exercise, and gather. Schools utilize it for training track and cross country teams. Science and biology classes visit to pick vegetation for class projects and also used for field trips.
The team takes one day a year to pass out surveys up and down the trail to receive feedback from the people who use it. Some questions are:
- “Did you purchase anything because of the trail? A bike?”
- “What do you rate the safety conditions of the trail?”
- “What can we do to improve the trail?”
“It took about four years to get it all done, which was very fast. Once we were finished, and people starting utilizing it, it started becoming quite popular. It keeps busy,” Anspach said. “One thing is for sure - we are always looking for volunteers.”
Join in on the fun and become a contributing component of the trail by participating in “Moonlight over the Tippy” on June 7, and “Tippy and Bicycles Too!” on August 3. For more information about the trail, stay up to date by following their facebook page , and visit their website. To become a volunteer of the Friends of the Panhandle Pathway, click here.
Here is a map of the Panhandle Pathway. Pictured above: L-R, Tom Anspach, Carl Anspach, Ron Simshauser, Bonita Simshauser.