Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Biking Indiana's Monon Trail

Indianapolis is home to one of the Rails-to-Trails "Trail Hall of Fame" trails -- the 18 mile long Monon Trail which traverses Marion and Hamilton Counties -- from Indianapolis north to Westfield. It is both an urban trail (often used for commuting) and a suburban trail passing through Carmel and Westfield.  It is centered between Westfield Blvd. on the east and North College on the west and passes beneath I-70, I-65, and I-465. 

In 1853, the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Railroad opened 300 miles of rail line from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.  A map of its two main lines formed an "X" over the state of Indiana and crossed at the line's namesake city of Monon, Indiana. The word Monon was derived from the Potowatomi Indian word monong, meaning "swift running." "The Hoosier Line," as it became known, carried troops, ammunition, food, fuel, and medicine to Union forces during the Civil War. Throughout its history, the Monon provided continuous service to the Indiana limestone industry. 

The trail is paved in its entirety though narrow in some places, is in pretty good condition with occasional root-heaves, and is quite busy at times.  One criticism: Often the gravel or dirt shoulders on each side of the asphalt are not level with the pavement, so be careful your tire doesn't leave the trail. 

A running club as well as a bike group were utilizing the trail the Saturday we rode it.  Road crossings proved easy, with underpasses, overpasses, and signalized crossings for the most part. Here's the trail at 86th where we parked.  (There is a lot on the north side of 86th behind Nora Corners, though you could no doubt find parking at all cross streets.)

Road names are posted and at times signs tell you what block north you are (as 6600.)

A number of creeks are crossed, always on bright red bridges...

...and foliage adorns the trail nearly everywhere.  The trail would probably be shaded for a good part of the day along most of its route.

Trail artwork in the form of murals (as seen here) or sculptures of various sorts grace the route as well, and there are "rest areas" at several places, including both the Indiana Home for the Blind (founded in 1843) and the Indiana Home for the Deaf, both of which abut the trail, and both of which have nice rest stops and historical information about the institution.  In fact, we encountered three deaf women biking as well as a blind man attached by tether to a sighted person. You also pass the Indiana Fairgrounds as you pedal on the south end.

The town of Carmel on the north end of the trail offers a lovely downtown area, and there was a large farmer's market in operation on the Saturday we biked here. The Monon Center at 111th Street has a water park, skate park, as well as exercise and meeting facilities. The former Carmel depot on the Monon line is now home to the Carmel Clay Historical Society and Museum.

The trail ends at 161st Street, though Westfield will be extending it another 8 miles in the next 2 years.

The Monon Trail Greenway, between 146th Street and 96th Street is owned by the City of Carmel and maintained by Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation.

The Monon Trail north of 146th Street is owned and maintained by the Town of Westfield's Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Monon Trail south of 96th Street is owned and maintained by the City of Indianapolis' Department of Parks and Recreation.

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