Community-Wide Matching Efforts Help Secure Next Level Funding for Prairie Trails Club

Members of the Prairie Trails Club gathered together Thursday night to celebrate receiving a Next Level Trails grant that’s going to help extend the Erie Trail.  

According to officials, the first three-mile segment of the Erie Trail was built in 2008 connecting the Town of North Judson to County Road 100 W. Another segment of a little over six miles was completed in 2010. State and federal funds were utilized for those projects.

Currently, the trail is a little over 9 miles long and extends from the Town of North Judson up to U.S. 35. The planned expansion will add an additional 2 miles that will reach toward Ora.

Prairie Trails Club President Carolla Heilstedt said the Club was incorporated as their own non-profit organization in 2017, which allowed them to start applying for grants on their own. Up to that point, they’d been coordinating with the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum.

The Erie Trail isn’t only for bipeds and bicyclists. A portion of the trail running from County Road 100 W to U.S. 35 has an adjacent sand-based equestrian path, which will be a part of the extended trail as well.

In addition to giving local travelers a safe route to use, the Erie Trail is also a draw for people from all across the country, according to Club President Heilstedt.

She explained, “We have a couple of different coast-to-coast trail lines that we’re a part of; so we’re a part of The American Discovery Trail, which extends from the east to the west coast, U.S. Bike Route 35 and we actually just received word that we were included in a new coast-to-coast trail system called The Great American Rails to Trail System.”

Erie Trail without Next Level extension

The Next Levels Trails Grant required a local match. Heilstedt mentioned that they never would have been able to secure the funding without the generous help of many.

Specific details about those contributions can be found below.

Key Sources for the Next Level Trails Grant Local Match:

  • Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum: Signed memorandum of understanding with PTC to allow them to utilize land where the extension is planned.
  • Greenways Foundation: An Indiana organization that promotes green and blue-ways provided a $5,000 grant
  • The Luminous Fund: A charitable foundation led by the Carrier family provided a $5,000 grant
  • Starke County Community Foundation: The local philanthropic organization donated $5,000
  • Starke County Highway Department: With the authorization of the Starke County Commissioners, the Highway Department was permitted to provide up to $5,000 in labor and materials for an in-kind donation
  • SCILL Center: built three bike racks that were valued at about $1,000 each
  • Kankakee Valley REMC: supplied grant funding for bike rack materials
  • Prairie Trails Club:
    • Provided $5,000 from treasury fund for general construction costs
    • Collected plastic bottle caps for the Lids to Benches Program to recycle material into seating for the trail
    • Committed to furnishing and coordinating safety and identification signage through partnerships already established with the Highway Department and local signage manufactures

Club officials shared that this expansion will greatly improve safety by extending the trail past U.S. 35 to reach broad, quiet, rural roads that allow easy connection to the Bass Lake community which has numerous amenities for trail users.

Additionally, it will provide a safer route to Tippecanoe State Park, a forested area with cabins and equestrian camping facilities. The PTC is also working to close the gaps between the existing Panhandle Pathway and the Nickel Plate trails.

Heilstedt mentioned that there is a lot of preliminary work that must be done before any construction efforts can begin on the extension.

Erie Trail Including Next Level extension

She shared, “We’ll have to have permitting, we’ll have to have surveying and just so much engineering and architectural planning submitted to INDOT and DNR for approval before we’ll be able to begin work.” 

She added that she’s been coordinating with Territorial Engineers, the firm that assisted with the grant proposal and past work, about what they can do before the funding is in hand. The state is not expected to release the grant money until the end of their fiscal year in July.

Looking ahead, the Prairie Trails Club has more plans for the future.

Heilstedt noted, “We are very interested in expanding, not just the trail, but the opportunities along the trail and one of those opportunities that we’d like to offer the community are learning kiosks.”

She said they would like the kiosks to be digital and interactive. The trail-side devices would allow path-users to learn more about the plants and animals in the surrounding area and the efforts that Prairie Trails Club volunteers take to ensure invasive species are removed so native foliage and fauna can thrive.

Aside from informational kiosks, the organization is also interested in installing bike repair stations intermittently along the trail to help people who hit a snag during their travels.

There will be more grant rounds provided through the DNR’s Next Level Trails program yet this year and Heilstedt noted that officials consistently apply for grants from other sources to help fund future development.

For more information or to get involved with the organization visit