WINONA LAKE – Discussion on greenway trails by the Winona Lake Town Council Tuesday included funding them, unpaved trails and how they could affect Warsaw Community Schools’ student busing.

It started when Councilwoman Tecy Banta asked town coordinator Craig Allebach about Next Level grant funding for trails projects. Allebach said the grant application period closed Friday, but the town had no submissions for that this year. He said the town didn’t have any projects for that and Next Level was looking for projects that were shovel-ready.

When Banta asked if it was a possibility for next year, Allebach said, “I understand there will be other funding rounds this year yet, maybe even more than one. Local funds that we would apply for would be $20 million statewide and then I think it’s $70 million for regional projects. So between our collaboration with Ride+Walk Warsaw Winona Lake … and Warsaw and Winona Lake also are looking at some regional projects that would potentially maybe go to Syracuse, east to Whitley County, north to Goshen. Haven’t heard as much west to Plymouth but we’ve talked about that.”

Allebach said an executive committee and an advisory committee are working on not only local trails but also regionally.

Banta reminded Council President Rick Swaim of a conversation they had regarding trails without asphalt. She asked him if he had an opportunity to get anywhere with that. He said not yet, and Banta said the thought was that maybe trails could be done quicker if they didn’t have to be paved. Swaim said those kind of trails work great with pedestrians and bicycles.

Allebach said, “We’re looking at that from the point of termination at Miller Field to Christ Covenant Church right now. Possibly even yet this year, depending on funding and if we can get the parties together.” He said the big thing the community wants is trails going east and west.

Banta said, “I just know that it makes it safer for bicyclists – who otherwise would use roadways – if we develop these under grant funding.”

Allebach said that’s the goal, and Swaim said the greenways make the community more attractive to people to move in.

Nick Hauck, The Village at Winona managing director, said, “Warsaw Community Schools over the next five years is looking at cutting 20 percent of bus routes, so it’s important we start planning for that with our community when they’re decreasing bus routes because the kids are going to have to get to school somehow.”

Banta asked him where he got his information, and Hauck said it came from the Ride+Walk Committee. He said he didn’t know at which schools it would happen and it was due to increased bus driver salaries and lack of drivers.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said, “We definitely don’t have a number of bus routes it would save.”

He said there would be an evaluation process before any decision was made. He said they would first determine if the students could get to school safely and if all the sidewalks could be cleaned in the winter.

Hoffert said WCS will keep working with the city and the Bike+Walk Committee to be sure that any pathways would be safely lit and cleaned.

“Twenty percent is not a number we’d come up with at this point. Before we’d change even bus routes, we’d do an evaluation. Greenways could change numbers, but looking forward we’d look to create safe zones with everyone.”

WCS has 50 traditional bus routes in its two-tier system. Secondary students are picked up first, dropped off at school, then bus drivers pick up their elementary routes. Buses also have different routes during the day, and the bus system is repeated in the afternoon.

Also at the Winona Lake Town Council meeting, Allebach said Warsaw received a grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation to improve all the sidewalks around Lincoln Elementary School.

“What’s occurring at 300 North right now is also going to play into that with all the development going on behind Kohl’s there,” Allebach said.

WCS Director of Buildings and Grounds Jim LeMaster said, “They’re not going to get rid of buses. Right now we have a shortage of drivers. They’ve actually hired more drivers, but like at Madison (on 300 North), they’re putting a sidewalk all the way out there. We just met with the city. We agreed they’re going to clean that off. We’re going to take the one in front of Harrison School all the way down to all those apartments. There used to be 2½ buses that run there; now those kids can walk to school.”

He said WCS is not going to leave kids behind, but there’s schools where students can walk and “a lot of kids would rather walk to school anyways than ride a bus.”

LeMasters said they’ve worked very hard on safety and having crosswalks.

Coverage of the rest of the town council meeting can be found here.