Dupont Road's Pufferbelly Trail

Fort Wayne Public Works spokesman Frank Suarez addresses a crowd gathered for the Sept. 4 celebration of the completion of the Dupont Road improvement project. In the background is a new section of the Pufferbelly Trail that runs under Dupont Road between Lima and Coldwater roads.

The city of Fort Wayne is seeking $3 million from the state’s Next Level Trails Grant program to build the final phase of the Pufferbelly Trail. To enhance its chances of receiving the money, it needs financial donations and letters from local businesses, groups and residents to show community support for what will be part of 110 miles of interconnected trails.

The Pufferbelly Trail counter shows a 130% increase in usage during August of 2019 as compared to August of 2018 with 8,223 users this August.

“Certainly, much of that growth can be tied to the recent completion of Pufferbelly sections from Lawton Park to Fernhill Avenue, Washington Center to Wallen (roads), and the underpass connection at Dupont Road,” Dawn Ritchie, greenways and trails manager for the city of Fort Wayne, said in an announcement. “...Completing the section from Washington Center is a significant connection to our entire trail network.”

A critical 1.78 miles from Washington Center to Ice Way, south of Coliseum Boulevard, is needed to complete the Pufferbelly Trail in Fort Wayne, and its importance is being compared in the announcement to the “golden spike” that completed the First Transcontinental Railroad to connect the east and west coasts in the 19th century.

The community donations, coupled with the city’s commitment to funds for land acquisition and design work, which would begin right away will strengthen the application for the Next Level funding, according to the announcement. Construction would likely take place in about two years, said city spokesman Frank Suarez.

Fort Wayne Trails, Inc. is also seeking letters of support from local business and community groups. A letter template is available. The deadline to be included with the grant application is Oct. 25.

“Partnerships and grants are essential to future trail growth,” Megan McClellan, CEO of Fort Wayne Trails, Inc., said in the announcement. “Our chances of receiving Next Level Trail funding are enhanced if we can show community support, both financially, and with letters and testimonials.”

The Pufferbelly Trail is a portion of the Poka-Bache Connector, the state visionary trail that will connect Ouabache State Park in Bluffton to Pokagon State Park in Angola. The 81-mile trail goes through Wells, Allen, DeKalb and Steuben counties. Currently, 32 miles of the trail are complete.

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