The Heritage Trail of Madison got a huge boost toward Phase One of a proposed Hanover-Madison Connector Trail recently when $2,160,160 was awarded from the State of Indiana’s Next Level Trails grant program to the local Heritage Trail Conservancy.

“We are incredibly excited and grateful to receive this award and to move forward on the first leg of a trail that will someday connect Hanover and downtown Madison,” said Kay Stokes, special assistant to the president for accreditation and external relations at Hanover College.

Stokes noted the Heritage Trail Conservancy is the official applicant for the Next Level Trails grant with partners in the project including the conservancy, Hanover College, Clifty Falls State Park, the Indiana Kentucky Electric Corporation Clifty Creek Generating Station, the City of Madison, the Town of Hanover and Jefferson County.

“We’re privileged and blessed to get this,” said Bob Greene, executive director of the Heritage Trail Conservancy. “This is a significant and great.”

The money will be used to extend an existing 1.18-mile section of the Heritage Trail to the entrance of Clifty Falls State Park. The work will begin at Second Street in downtown Madison where the current trail is accessed in the 1000 block of West Second Street. From there, it will follow alongside the Madison railroad incline and an existing path that currently stops on the west end of downtown Madison. Greene said the funds will not only create a new path to the entrance of Clifty Falls State Park but provide upgrades to the existing path.

Greene said the Phase One project will involve a collaboration between the conservancy, the State of Indiana, City of Madison and Madison Railroad. The timeline for the project, based on a project narrative with funding approved this year, indicates that design would be completed during 2023 with a hope for Phase One to be completed by May 2025.

Phase One would create a safe bike and pedestrian path paralleling Clifty Hollow Road and State Road 56 from downtown Madison to the Clifty Falls Park entrance. Eventually, the plan is for a six-mile Hanover-Madison Connector Trail that could link with the Ohio River Recreation Trail, a national water trail under development.

“We know there’s no safe way to get from Hanover to Madison now if you are a pedestrian so this creates a safe, accessible path,” said Stokes, adding that with a Hanover-Madison connector trail, Hanover College’s 1,100 students would be better connected to downtown Madison. “It’s also a great resource for people who are trying to get exercise,” she said.

Additionally, she noted that Clifty Falls State Park “gets a half-million visitors per year and they’re already going to the state for activities and physical exercise. How nice would it be for the park’s visitors to bike into historic Madison.”

Stokes said an important factor in moving the Hanover-Connector Trail forward was a $28,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County that provided funding to conduct a scoping study that formed the basis of the Next Level Trails grant application.

The grant was part of an announcement Wednesday by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Borter that will provide trails grants to 38 communities and non-profit organizations for a combined $65 million to create 77 miles of new trail development as a part of the third round of the Next Level Trails program. The program requires a minimum 20% project match, which can include monetary contributions, land value, and in-kind donations of materials and labor. With matching funds from applicants, this round is expected to generate a total investment of more than $102 million.

“Trails connect communities together in such a personal way and are perfect pathways to good mental and physical well-being,” Holcomb said. “These continued quality-of-life investments will reap generational economic and tourism development dividends and further showcase Indiana’s incredible outdoor experiences.”