The Old Milwaukee Trail
LAWRENCE COUNTY - JANUARY 24, 2023 - When I need to clear my mind or I have a thorny problem to solve, I often head out for a long walk on the Milwaukee rail-trail in Bedford. Although I walk from my house, the City has established a great parking area just north of the trailhead. The crushed limestone trail meanders westward along Spider Creek from Lincoln Avenue for about eleven miles to Williams Dam. Except for maintenance vehicles, motorized conveyance is not allowed on the trail, which makes for a very peaceful walk or bicycle ride.
Joby D. Jerrells Guest Columnist
The first half-mile of the trail passes through residential and industrial properties. I really love the potential that this area has for development and more gentrification. For example, there is an old industrial facility on the trail that would be a great location for a stone-cutting museum and arts instruction center.
There are other properties that also offer some unique opportunities. Personally, I would love to see an outfitter or bicycle rental at or near the trailhead, with transport service to and from Williams Dam.
If you have ever been on the Virginia Creeper Trail near Abingdon, Virginia you will know how successful scenic rail tourism can be. As the Milwaukee trail grows westward toward Martin County, use thereof will also increase. What better place to grab some pizza before or after the trail than nearby Grecco’s, which is currently expanding its footprint. I will keep the rest of my best money-making ideas to myself for the time being.
If I had one criticism of the trail it would be that there are few access points within the City.
The trailhead and the first half-mile or so are great, but after that, there is only one official access point near Wilson Park south of 16 th Street. Rail trails often cause adjacent property owners' consternation over trespassers, and anyone responsibly using the trial should respect private property rights of the owners along the trail and only enter at designated, authorized areas.
Many people know that I would love to see a sports/recreation center in Bedford, similar to a YMCA complete with pool, hot tub, weights, and indoor walking/running track for inclement weather.
View over Salt Creek on the Milwaukee Trail
During the pandemic, many Ys, including nearby Bloomington, saw a decline in membership. Ys also typically pay a portion of any fundraising campaign to the parent organization, which takes money out of the local community. There is no reason such a facility could not be a run by City parks, with all funds remaining in our community.
Specifically at the Beech Street site, where I would prefer to see a sports and recreation center rather than a new jail. Nothing against a new jail, which may very well be needed,
but Beech Street is better suited for a recreation complex than a jail in my opinion. It would be relatively easy to establish an access point from Beech Street to the trail, in partnership with Indiana Trails, the City, and the Housing Authority.
I find after about the first half-mile, I begin to notice less traffic and street noise, and start to get into the rhythm of a nice walk. Once I pass under 16 th Street, my walk really becomes relaxing and enjoyable. I have seen several bird species, deer, small mammals, and lots of wildflowers along the trail. More flora and fauna would be even more inviting. After 16 th street, I see few people on the trail.
At about 2.5 miles, the trail passes under State Road 37. From there, and another 2.5 miles to Coxton Road, it is unlikely you will see many people at all, but you may run across Bigfoot. If you know, you know. I have never seen any snakes, eagles, or bobcats, but I would like to see the latter (from a safe distance).
Some people have expressed safety concerns with the trail. While I have never felt unsafe, I have seen evidence of graffiti as well as erosion of the trailbed caused by excessive ATV use crossing the trail in certain spots. As for crime, I have never heard of or experienced it, but it is always possible.
More access points would also alleviate safety concerns to some extent.
I find that the pace to my half-way point on Coxton Road goes rather quickly as the trail westward from Bedford is slightly on the downgrade. The return is of course slightly uphill.
If anyone recalls when trains were in use, the eastbound train had a slow climb to Bedford from the west. I am personally thankful of this as I had a close call once on a date in high school when I was crossing the tracks near U Street late at night. With no warning, the train was just down the tracks and all I saw as we were crossing was the headlight but heard no horn blast. While we made it across the tracks without incident, needless to say there was no second date.
I love the trail, which is now part of my routine. On the one hand, better access would increase use, but on the other, it would selfishly decrease tranquility. Even so, we could all benefit from a healthier lifestyle, and I would encourage anyone to simply take a walk and experience it for yourself. I have done so in all four seasons, including a recent ten-mile walk on a 30-degree day.
The trail allows me to unplug from the world for a peaceful few hour until I return, usually with a clear head and often with a solution to those thorny problems that brought me there in the first place.
Joby D. Jerrells is a graduate of BNL High school, a practicing attorney, and the 5 th generation of his family to reside in Lawrence County.
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