As classes let out at Whiteland Community High School, masses of students rushed toward home for the evening.
Some climbed on the bus. The upperclassmen jumped in their cars with their friends. And a small group of about 20 started walking, staying on the grassy shoulder along the road until they could dart across the street to the sidewalk.
Despite being nestled among neighborhoods and along Whiteland’s main drag, pedestrians have a hard time getting to and from school.
Increasing traffic on the town’s main roads has made walking, jogging or biking a more dangerous situation. Some neighborhoods have sidewalks, but the system is sporadic and inconsistent.
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“You can’t really get anywhere with a sidewalk the whole time. Some neighborhoods have them, some don’t. Some businesses have them and others don’t. Some are broken,” said Brandon Bangel, a physical education teacher at Whiteland.
To remedy the situation, Bangel and a group of local residents have banded together to work on creating a system of trails. The effort is in its infancy, but the grassroots organization has worked closely with town government to start work.
The town was also included in a Purdue University Extension workshop program on active living, to solidify plans to implement trails. The hope is to lay the groundwork for trails not only within Whiteland and New Whiteland, but to help facilitate a county-wide connectivity plan.
“Ultimately, it just creates a greater sense of community. You have the safety, and another byproduct is health, but in the end it’s fostering community: people caring about each other, being out-and-about, seeing your neighbors on the sidewalk,” said Erin Slevin, community wellness coordinator for Purdue Extension Johnson County.
A trail system would been a boon to Whiteland and New Whiteland, said Carmen Parker, who has organized the trails committee.
People could run and walk more safely around the towns. Different neighborhoods would instantly become more connected, strengthening the sense of community that exists. Children could walk to school from their homes.
“Right now, the high school is the only school where kids are technically allowed to walk. There’s really no safe way for kids to be able to use bikes or walk to school, especially with U.S. 31 going right through town,” Parker said.
The system would have greater impact, as well. Whiteland and New Whiteland sit between two communities that have extensive trail networks, as both Franklin and Greenwood have worked for years to create uninterrupted walkways connecting parks, schools and other community assets.
Miles of trails are in place throughout both cities. By forming a trail system in Whiteland and New Whiteland, those pathways could link to form a more comprehensive Johnson County network, Parker said.
The initiative to create a Whiteland trails system grew out of a conversation between Parker and Norm Gabehart, Whiteland town manager. They were talking at the Whiteland Community Day in September, and touched on the issue of connectivity around town.
“I run on a regular basis, and it’s really hard to find new routes or go places without running on the street, where you’re in an environment with motorized vehicles and you,” Parker said.
Gabehart has experience starting a trails program in the past. He was director of operations in Greenwood until 2012, during which time a committee of Greenwood residents started working on trails in that area.
He sees a resident-led effort as being vital to the success of trail construction in Whiteland.
“Community buy-in is very important,” he said. “In my experience in the past, anything that’s ever blocked something like this is NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard.) So getting people informed is vital, and the best bridge of information comes from people in the community.”
Gabehart liked Parker’s idea, and asked her to head up a resident-led effort to look into creating trails in town.
Parker found an early ally with Bangel, who in addition to teaching at Whiteland, also coaches cross-country and track at the high and middle schools.
Bangel had noted the difficulty of finding safe routes for his runners to train around town. Mapping a loop that avoided the busier roads took major planning.
“You send kids out on a run, and they’re on the roads, somewhere. And the traffic is only getting more dense,” Bangel said. “We continue to be more limited where we can have our kids to go, not just athletes, but kids walking to and from school.”
The committee has been working together for the past six months. Founding members compiled a list of people from the schools and the community who could help. So far, about two dozen people have attended the committee’s meetings interested in helping.
Members have brainstormed where they’d like to see trails, and what other entities could help support the effort.
Right now, the committee is still laying the foundation for a more serious effort, Parker said. Conversations haven’t even started regarding funding.
“Really, we want to start by building a plan and finding out what’s the logical way to do this, where we would start and what resources we could bring to the table,” Parker said.
Certain areas stand out in terms of trail location, Bangel said. A walking trail around the high school campus, similar to what was built at Franklin Community High School, would give people a loop where people could walk or ride bikes in a safe area.
County Road 100 East, which has seen much neighborhood development and construction in recent years, would connect Tracy Road to existing trails created by the city of Greenwood on Worthsville Road.
That could allow for a corridor stretching from Clark-Pleasant Middle School close to the center of town, Bangel said.
“When the trails are built, how can we make this most impactful for kids in our community?” he said. “The school is probably the focal point of our community, so why not set it up so that we have as many safe trails to get here as possible for families. It just makes sense.”
The group has also reached out to staff with the Franklin and Greenwood parks departments to discuss how they approached trails, and present their ideas of connectivity to them.
“We want to be a team player and do what we can to make the connection. In looking at a county-wide trail system, we’d all need to work together,” Parker said.
The committee also reached out Aspire Johnson County, a branch of the Johnson County Development Corp. that gathers community leaders to brainstorm, research and put into action ways to make the county more attractive.
Aspire Johnson County has focused on ways to connect the county and improve quality of life, goals which a trails system in Whiteland would fit into.
“When people are looking to work here or live here, we want Whiteland to be in the mix on why people would want to come here,” Parker said. “We want people to come, stay and play in Johnson County, not just drive through it.”
Despite the trails effort being in its infancy, organizers have secured an important tool to help further the cause. Whiteland was able to apply to be included in a series of workshops being conducted around the state to foster active living initiatives.
The workshops are the result of a partnership between the Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program and Health by Design, a coalition promoting health lifestyles. On April 25, Organizers will gather government staff, civic leaders and active-living advocates to help map out a solid plan for trail development.
“It will bring together an additional group of stakeholders and create a unified vision of what is active living and how that will play out in different parts of town,” Slevin said. “The goal will be to talk about how the environment shapes how we live and be active and get to places safely.”
Whiteland was one of only seven communities in Indiana chosen for the workshops, joining larger cities such as Fort Wayne, Wabash and Southport.
By the end of the workshop, the group will have an actionable plan that sets a timetable and goals to seriously delve into this effort, Slevin said.
The committee acknowledges that even the first trails are years away from being built. Sources of funding and grants can take five or six years to clear, Parker said.
“It’s not the sort of thing where we’re going to apply for a grant and get it next month, then start building a trail,” she said. “We’re building the foundation. We’re not building the actual trail — that’s the easy part. It’s this behind-the-scenes part that does take a lot of time.”
Whiteland Trails Committee
What: A grassroots effort to develop a plan for a system of trails in Whiteland and New Whiteland, with the eventual goal to connect to trails in Franklin and Greenwood.
Who: The resident-led group is comprised of local residents, educators and civic leaders.
How to get involved: The committee wants people to be engaged with this trails initiative, and welcomes involvement from anyone in the community. People can get in touch with Carmen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Trails@whitelandin.us
What: A daylong event bringing together town staff, community members and civic leaders to learn about the benefits of designing for active living.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25
Where: Clark-Pleasant Community Schools, 50 Center St., Whiteland
Who: The workshop is organized by the Purdue Extension nutrition education program, along with the Indiana State Department of Health and Health by Design, a coalition designed to promote active and healthy living.
Activities will include
- Learning about the benefits of planning and building for active living
- Best practices and strategies for success
- A walking audit of nearby infrastructure
- Identification of active living goals for Whiteland