There was a time in Hendricks County when railroads played an important role in transportation, commerce, settlement and expansion of the area. As time marched on, though, railroad traffic declined nationwide, and rail companies began abandoning their lines.

In recent years, these abandoned rail lines have been repurposed in the form of rail trails, introducing a recreational component to the land once ruled by iron horses.

Two predominant rail trails exist in Hendricks County -- the B&O Trail in Brownsburg and the Vandalia Trail in the southern portion of the county -- and both are receiving massive facelifts. I decided to go exploring one day to check out the trail improvements at both locations.

B&O Trail

The B&O Trail is operated in Hendricks County by the B&O Trail Association, and it runs along an abandoned line once operated by the B&O Railroad. (Trivia time! Do you know what B&O stands for? The answer is later in this post!) Sign on the B&O Trail at Green Street in Brownsburg.

Eventually, the goal is to extend the trail all the way from Indianapolis through North Salem, out to Montezuma, Ind., and perhaps, at some point, into Illinois.

Part of that goal became a reality this summer when a new two-mile section of the B&O Trail between Green Street (Ind. 267) and County Road 500 East just outside of Brownsburg was opened to the public.

This paved trail is perfect for bicyclists, runners, walkers and strollers. A beautiful canopy of trees provides a lot of shade along the trail, and it doesn't take long, moving west of Green Street along the trail, until the traffic sounds fade away and the nature sounds take over.

Roughly a half-mile west of Green Street, travelers along the B&O Trail traverse White Lick Creek across a cool new bridge. Stone benches provide sitting areas on both sides at each end of the bridge. Right in the middle of the bridge, observation decks on each side protrude out over the creek, providing a neat way to enjoy the natural beauty of the water and surrounding area while staying out of the way of the trail traffic.

Speaking of traffic, Green Street is pretty heavily traveled as a main corridor between Avon and Brownsburg. Part of the B&O Trail's improvements include a new 10-vehicle parking lot or trailhead right across the street from Frazee Gardens. A new traffic signal there stops automobile traffic in both directions on Green Street, which allows trail enthusiasts to safely cross the street from one section of the trail to the next.

(Trivia answer: the B&O Railroad's official name was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.)

Vandalia Trail

This rail trail spans an abandoned line that was, at one point, called the Vandalia Railroad.

Operated by Hendricks County Parks & Recreation and the Friends of the Vandalia Trail, a four-mile section of the trail runs west from Amo through Coatesville to the Hendricks-Putnam County line, connecting with the People Pathways that continues into Greencastle. Another section of the Vandalia Trail that runs through Plainfield is operated by Plainfield Parks & Recreation. (Currently, there is no connecting segment between Amo and Plainfield.)

The Vandalia Trail is part of the National Road Heritage Trail system, which envisions connecting trails spanning the state of Indiana from Terre Haute to Richmond in the future.

The Vandalia Trail at Ind. 75 in CoatesvilleSince its inception in 2005, the western portion of the Vandalia Trail has been a natural surface. However, in the fall of 2016, Hendricks County Parks & Recreation began the process of paving the entire four-mile section that it operates. The pavement currently extends from the People Pathways at the county line, east through Coatesville, to County Road 675 West. Construction crews are in the process of paving the remaining section of the trail into Amo.

As with the B&O Trail, the Vandalia Trail is shaded by a beautiful canopy of trees, and the peace and serenity of the western portion of Hendricks County makes for an enjoyable communion with nature as you travel by foot, bicycle or even horseback.

The Vandalia Trail crosses Crittenden Creek just west of Amo, and the bridge over the creek had seen its better days. As part of the improvements to the trail, the bridge is being completely replaced, providing much safer passage.

Still in the works, but not yet completed, is improved parking at the trailheads in both Amo and Coatesville, modern restrooms at both trailheads, interpretive signage along the trail, benches and other amenities. Anticipated completion of the project is November of this year, assuming the weather cooperates.

As the B&O Trail continues expanding across the northern part of Hendricks County and the Vandalia Trail expands across the southern portion, traversing the county via human power becomes easier and safer, access to towns and businesses improves, and Hendricks County residents and visitors will enjoy the health and social benefits of increased recreational opportunities.