The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Conklin Bay Boardwalk and Trail was held at 11 a.m. Thursday. Pictured (L to R) are, front row: Erlene Yentes, Spike Ford, Holly Swoverland, Megan McClelland, Kay Young, Heather Harwood, Robert Smith, Pat Miller, Elizabeth Miller, Mike Miller, Nathaniel Simmons, Jo Paczowski, Wes Downing, Dr. David Brandes, Renea Salyer; second row: Dan Ernst, Christian Baybutt, Jennifer Stewart, Angie Racolta, Jerry Wright, Tony Pawlicki, LuAnn Wojtczak, Steve Fields, Jason Dewart, Jill Boggs, John Hall, Stephanie Overbey; last two rows: Sherman Goldenberg, Matthew Bochard, Todd Binning, Jeanetta Slabaugh, Richard "Doc" Brungardt, Alan Tio, Jim Layne, Paul Stoelting, Curt Nisly, Mike Noe, Virgina Cazier, Brad Jackson, Kim Strawbridge, Erick Leffler and Dr. Tom Edington. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Conklin Bay Boardwalk and Trail was held at 11 a.m. Thursday. Pictured (L to R) are, front row: Erlene Yentes, Spike Ford, Holly Swoverland, Megan McClelland, Kay Young, Heather Harwood, Robert Smith, Pat Miller, Elizabeth Miller, Mike Miller, Nathaniel Simmons, Jo Paczowski, Wes Downing, Dr. David Brandes, Renea Salyer; second row: Dan Ernst, Christian Baybutt, Jennifer Stewart, Angie Racolta, Jerry Wright, Tony Pawlicki, LuAnn Wojtczak, Steve Fields, Jason Dewart, Jill Boggs, John Hall, Stephanie Overbey; last two rows: Sherman Goldenberg, Matthew Bochard, Todd Binning, Jeanetta Slabaugh, Richard "Doc" Brungardt, Alan Tio, Jim Layne, Paul Stoelting, Curt Nisly, Mike Noe, Virgina Cazier, Brad Jackson, Kim Strawbridge, Erick Leffler and Dr. Tom Edington. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
SYRACUSE – Walkers, joggers, bikers and nature lovers have a new place to get out and enjoy in Syracuse.

Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Committee and its supporters held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for the official opening of the Conklin Bay Boardwalk and Trail at the entrance to the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation.

Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Executive Director Erlene Yentes said, “First, I would like to personally welcome all the Conklin Bay donors. The Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Committee extends a huge thank you to our Conklin Bay donors for their support during this project that spans over five years. We deeply appreciate your generosity, collaboration, encouragement and trust during this project.”

She recognized the top tier donors and their representatives in attendance, which included Next Level Trails, Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, Miller Family Foundation, K21 Health Foundation and the Kosciusko County Convention & Visitors Commission.

She then welcomed past committee members and extended “our gratitude for the passion and the volunteerism of your time as part of the Syracuse-Wawasee Trailss Committee.” She gave a “special welcome” to two individuals that she called the “founding fathers” of the trails: Spike Ford and Dr. David Brandes.

“They, along with David Lichenauer and Max Lauderman, started the Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Committee. Their vision, initiative, dedication and hard work has laid the foundation for the trail. Thank you for launching the vision of a connected trail community,” Yentes said.

After recognizing past committee members Sam Leman, Robert Trame and Matthew Bochard, she gave a special thanks to former director Megan McClelland, who applied for the Next Level Trails grant to make the project a reality.

“Third, I would like to acknowledge the members of our Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Committee for their dedication to the cause,” Yentes said. “Each member of the current committee brings their own unique expertise. Special recognition also goes to Robert Smith, who was our project manager during this project. He put in countless hours ... and was passionate about protecting our wetlands and our lake views.”

She welcomed representatives of Earth Source Inc., A & Z Engineering and Selge Construction. “Kudos to all of you for adapting to changes, problems and completing a wonderful boardwalk and trails. Thank you,” she said.

Finally, she recognized local, county, state and national elected officials; Kosciusko County Convention & Visitors Bureau; Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation; and media.

Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Chair Kay Young said Thursday morning while she was getting ready for the ceremony, she got to thinking about the times the committee was together and wondered not only if the boardwalk and trail would get done, but also if anyone would come.

“Number one, we have built it and they have come,” she said. “If any of you have been around, you know that the trail is being used, and this group today – we were hoping it wasn’t just going to be the trails committee, and we are thrilled to know that all of you that supported us are able to be here. There’s no words that I can say to thank you all.”

She said they were very fortunate to have the trail system in Syracuse.

“It’s a small community, and there’s very few small communities that have anything that is this great and we’re really happy to have it, Young said.

In 2015, she said the Trails Committee took on the challenge of the planning stages for Conklin Bay.

“It had been a vision before that, but we really buckled down with the planning at that point,” she said.

She said McClelland was instrumental in getting grants and the final piece of the puzzle was the Next Level Trails grant through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

They applied for the grant Feb. 6, 2019. On May 2, 2019, the Committee received the $1.2 million grant from Next Level.

“It was a very exciting day when Megan made that phone call to me. I think we both were a little teary eyed,” Young said.

Groundbreaking took place June 10, 2019, and construction began Oct. 13, 2019. The Conklin Bay Boardwalk and Trail unofficially opened May 20.

“This connects us to Harkless Drive, and we have a lovely concrete sidewalk that connects us to the boardwalk, which is the second section of boardwalk we’ve done. It’s very unique for the area, and, of course, we have a very unique area,” Young said.

There’s a third of a mile of boardwalk through the wetlands. There are three overlook areas and a large observatory. Polywood “was very generous” in donating some benches along the trails.

The trail continues south, with two-thirds of a mile along Ind. 13, down to Grandview Drive. There’s a total of 1.37 miles added to the existing 11-mile trails system. She said there’s still amenities to install, such as bicycle racks and dog waste stations.

Finally, before the ribbon-cutting, Smith talked about where the Committee is going next now that downtown Syracuse and Conklin Bay are completed.

“Our objective with the Syracuse Trails is to build a trail around the lake. It’s that simple,” he said.

The remaining trail segments include Ideal Beach, Southshore, Vawter Park, Hatchery Road, Turkey Creek, Enchanted Hills and Johnson Bay.

“The way we’re looking at doing this, is right now we’ve just finished up this project. We’re now looking at our next project,” he said, asking for volunteers.

He said as the trails are built, the plan is for them to eventually all connect.

On a broader scale, regionally, he said the trails in Syracuse could eventually connect to trails in North Webster and Warsaw.

“As we grow as a community, there’s no reason not to start dreaming about the big ones,” Smith said. He said when people are looking to move in to an area, they want amenities like trails. “As a community, I think this is a great asset we’ve got, but there’s unlimited potential.”