There was a time in Hendricks County, Indiana, 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 continue to receive massive facelifts. I decided to go exploring to check out the trail improvements at both locations.
(Trivia time! Do you know what B&O stands for? The answer is later in this post!)
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.
Marion County Section
In the fall of 2019, the B&O Trail received $4.9 million in grant money to purchase land and build the trail in Indianapolis from Michigan Street to Speedway, connecting with a 1.5-mile section of the trail that is operated by the Town of Speedway.
The grant money will also allow expansion of Speedway’s B&O Trail to the west on a new bridge across Eagle Creek into the middle of Farley neighborhood.
Hendricks County Section
Three years ago here in Hendricks County, a 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 sounds of nature 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 included a 10-vehicle parking lot and trailhead as you enter the south side of Brownsburg. A crossing 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.
Parking also is available at the new Cardinal Park off Hornaday Road and at County Road 500 East.
Another must-see portion of the trail can be found in a tunnel built underneath Ronald Reagan Parkway. Local artists painted various murals inside the tunnel.
Construction of another tunnel that will extend under County Road 300 East recently began and should be finished by late July.
For more information about the B&O Trail, click here.
(Trivia answer: the B&O Railroad's official name was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.)
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.
Since its inception in 2005, the western portion of the Vandalia Trail had been a gravel and natural surface. However, Hendricks County Parks & Recreation has now paved the entire four-mile section that it operates.
Additionally, modern restrooms and drinking fountains were recently installed at the Coatesville trailhead and the Amo trailhead. Each trailhead also includes bicycle repair stations, benches, trash and recycling receptacles and pet waste stations.
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 recent improvements to the trail, the bridge was completely replaced, providing much safer passage.
Hendricks County Parks & Recreation has started working with landowners to purchase parcels of land in an effort to expand the Vandalia Trail east from Amo to Clayton. The long-term plan is to extend the trail east through Cartersburg and connect with the Plainfield section of the Vandalia Trail, providing a non-stop trail from the western border to the eastern border of Hendricks County.
To learn more about the Vandalia Trail, click here.