This award recognizes an individual that has made outstanding contributions and provided consistent support for trail planning, development, or maintenance. It is intended to recognize the efforts of a private or public sector individual working for enhanced trail recreation on either the local, state, or national level.
The Nickel Plate Trail is not only the pride of North Central Indiana, but also a testament to Michael (Mike) Kuepper’s vision and dedication.
In December 1999, Mike Kuepper started the Friends of the Nickel Plate with a vision of transforming a former railroad corridor into a trail near his hometown of Peru, Indiana.Today, the 37 mile and growing paved Nickel Plate Trail winds from Rochester to Peru and then on to Cassville to connect 10 communities. In addition to the countless recreational opportunities it offers area residents and visitors, the trail has also spurred a fair share of economic development in the area.
Kuepper has been involved in every step of the process from planning and land acquisition to development as President of the Friends of the Nickel Plate. Kuepper lead the group when it first acquired the Nickel Plate corridor from the Norfolk Southern Rail via the Federal Railbanking program. When all hands on deck were needed to complete the trail’s 14 decked bridges, Kuepper was there to help out.
Equally impressive as the actual development of the trail, has been its funding. As a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit, the Friends of the Nickel Plate relies solely on donations and grants to develop the trail. Kuepper has gone after a number of Indiana trail grants, including Recreational Trails Program, Heritage Trust, Bicentennial Nature Trust, Transportation Enhancements, and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as personally
Kuepper, an Indiana State University graduate, has not stopped with just the accomplishment of putting the Nickel Plate Trail on the ground. He continues to work toward improving and expanding the trail. In 2012, a pedestrian HAWK crossing was installed at a high traffic area of Peru thanks in part to Kuepper and the Friends of the Nickel Plate. That same year they also opened a new shelter and 10,000 pound train truck picnic table to improve the experience of the trail user.
In 2014, the group added two more miles of paved trail to bring the total to 37 miles of trail and Mike continues to push for more miles. Recently, the group acquired seven miles of the former Penn Central Railroad. This should help Kuepper’s with his newest goal of connecting the Nickel Plate Trail with the neighboring Cardinal Greenway.
Finally, Kuepper’s dedication is perhaps most evident as he pursues finding a long-term maintenance solution for the Nickel Plate Trail and other trails. Kuepper was instrumental in assisting with the establishment of Indiana’s Trail Maintenance Fund in 2013. Kuepper truly encompass every aspect of a “trail worker” and without his efforts the Nickel Plate Trail would not be the success it is today.