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The rapid development of the Aboite trails along with expansion of the city’s trails are a testament to the ability of a determined volunteer group to organize, raise money and work well with government officials who recognized the numerous benefits of developing more trails.
Aboite New Trails, Inc. (“ANT”) is a 501(c)3 grassroots organization founded in 2001 by area citizens recognizing the vast need for safe pedestrian and bicycle options throughout Fort Wayne and the surrounding region. Through its advocacy and fundraising efforts it has forever changed the local and regional landscape, having raised over $11 million in dollars and sponsored projects and having built 20 trail miles by the end of 2010.
The goal of Aboite New Trails is to improve the safety, health, economy
and overall vibrancy the Fort Wayne region
Additionally, its successful advocacy and public relations initiatives have played a significant role in influencing public policy both locally and at the state level in terms of infrastructure, ordinances, government staffing, funding, and ultimately a mindset that now embraces and prioritizes trails and greenways.
Prior to 2001, the only trail that existed in Fort Wayne and its environs was a neglected 23-mile Rivergreenway system isolated at the city’s core with virtually no outside pedestrian or bicycle access. Aboite New Trails sought to create significant change in the community, and ultimately the region, first by educating the public and the local government on the vast impact trails can have on the safety, health, economy and overall vibrancy of a community.
That initiative included one-on-one government meetings (with elected officials, Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council (NIRCC), Urban Transportation Advisory Board (UTAB), City, County and State), comprehensive marketing and media relations campaigns, public meetings, letter campaigns, and grassroots open houses. Consequently, ANT has had an extremely successful partnership with local and State government for all area trail-building efforts, and has had a resounding impact on government sponsored road projects.
For example, when State Road 14 was slated for reconstruction and widening, ANT spearheaded a massive grassroots campaign to petition the City, County, and State to add a trail and sidewalk to accommodate the thousands of residents and visitors along the corridor. Hundreds of children, educators, corporate leaders, and families sent in letters of support and ANT presented them to government leaders.
Media Event with Aboite New Trails
As a result of this effort to establish government cooperation with trail initiatives, safe spaces for people traveling by foot or by bike are now seen as integral components of Fort Wayne’s transportation system. In fact, with a regional bicycle and pedestrian plan now included as part of our metropolitan planning area’s 2030 Transportation Plan, all new road and bridge construction includes bicycle and pedestrian facilities for the first time in the Fort Wayne area’s history.
Prior to 2001, Northeast Indiana had received only one Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant for a trail project. Since then, and as a direct result of ANT’s influence and partnerships, Northeast Indiana has received 12 TE and ARRA grants, in addition to CMAQ funds, resulting in $8.9 million invested in area trails and greenways.
Also as a direct result of ANT’s lobbying and advocacy efforts, the City of Fort Wayne created a Greenways Manager position (under the Public Works department), who today manages both the Rivergreenway and 11.2 additional miles in trail construction and development throughout all of Fort Wayne. Most recently, ANT completed a $3.9 million fundraising initiative to connect its Aboite Trails system to downtown’s Rivergreenway, which when complete will provide for a 50-mile continuous trail corridor across Fort Wayne. ANT also sought and signed ground-breaking Memorandums of Understanding with both the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County, formally establishing roles and responsibilities for all trail ownership, liability and maintenance.
It’s oftentimes hard to quantify the significant role ANT has had on local, regional and state trail initiatives. Locally, it’s a leader in bicycle and pedestrian access efforts and plays an active role in Fort Wayne’s Greenway Coalition, Towpath Trail Taskforce, Utility Coordination committee, and the “Bike Fort Wayne” and “Walk Fort Wayne” task forces. In 2009, the City of Fort Wayne chose the trails and specifically the ANT-led Oprah’s Big Give campaign as one of three community assets to highlight in its application for the All America City Award, which Fort Wayne received for the 3rd time.
Kids participate iin the annual "Great ANT Race"
During ANT’s 2008 ‘Oprah’s Big Give,’ local ABC affiliate Indiana’s News Center chose ANT as the recipient of a challenge to grow $10,000 of seed money and hold a large event in only 6 weeks. ANT shared the seed money with other area trail groups to help raise money and awareness for area trails. Due to ANT’s urging and lobbying, the City of Fort Wayne provided a dollar-for-dollar match, and the challenge ended with a City-wide event on all of the Fort Wayne Trails, raising $1.1 million for area trails. Fort Wayne’s Big Give was recognized on the Oprah Winfrey Show as the competition’s most successful community Big Give project in the country. In 2009 Aboite New Trails’ President of the Board was recognized by the Journal Gazette (Knight-Ridder) as its Citizen of the Year, highlighting the impact Aboite New Trails has had on overall trail awareness and building efforts.
At the State level, Aboite New Trails’ plan and its implementation has been referred to as “the state model for community trails systems” by Ray Irvin, former Indiana State Director of Bikeways and Greenways. It has been adopted by Allen County, the City of Fort Wayne, and the Northeastern Regional Coordinating Council as a valid system for providing bicycle and pedestrian access throughout greater Fort Wayne, and beyond. Its trails are actively utilized and enjoyed for alternative transportation, recreation, exercise and even socializing by all ages and types of people within our community, as well as many visitors to the Fort Wayne area. A mindset and a way of life have been altered forever. Jane Silva, formerly of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, stated that “Aboite New Trails has achieved a total systems change in this community and that is extremely difficult to achieve.” Today, ANT is a premier grassroots example and state leader in the development of multi-use trails.
For more information:
Aboite New Trails, Inc.: http://www.aboitenewtrails.com/