Writer // Janelle Morrison Images // Theresa Skutt and submitted The good weather days are upon us, and it is time to get out and enjoy any of Zionsville’s 19 parks and many trails that are part of what makes our town an incredible place to live, work and play. Matt Dickey, director of the Zionsville Parks Department, weighed in on the parks and trails expansion plans. The current map of parks and trails (as pictured) shows the parks and the Big 4 Trail as it exists, along with the proposed north and south extensions. “In acres per thousand of population, we have more acres per capita than any of our neighbors, including Carmel,” Dickey shared. “Now, part of that is because Carmel is so big. We are a little bit unusual from a traditional municipal system, which might have a predominance of parks with playgrounds and ballfields or whatever , and we developed more like a small county system in the State of Indiana. A county system has more streams and trails and ‘passive’ recreational, self-directed activities.” Inarguably, Zionsville’s parks and trails system has grown into an impressive menu of outdoor amenities over the years, and it’s only going to get better. Dickey shared with us the details of the Next Level Trails Grant that he and his team have applied for. If awarded, the grant would connect a quarter mile at each of the proposed north and south ends of the Big 4 Trail, connecting the existing corridor to the Whitestown and Carmel trail connections, essentially connecting over 500 miles of continuous paved pathways. As part of Governor Holcomb’s Next Level Connections infrastructure program, Next Level Trails (NLT) is designed to incentivize collaborative efforts to accelerate trail connections. Next Level Trails will invest $90 million—the largest infusion of state trail funding in Indiana history—toward the development of regionally and locally significant trails throughout Indiana. The DNR Division of Outdoor Recreation is administering the program in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Transportation. This grant—an 80/20 percent match—would begin round one having a total dollar amount of $20–$25 million for projects of regional significance and $5 million for those of local significance. “The grant promotes connectivity,” Dickey explained. “It also talks about regional and local trails. We are a regional trail because this corridor goes all the way up to Lafayette, Indiana. We, Zionsville, started working on back in the ’90s. We were done with our piece before it was seen by the state as a visionary trail. We also established the Greenspace Foundation in 1999 through the Community Foundation of Boone County.” The Green Space Foundation was established for acquisition of real estate and/or conservation easements for park or nature preserve use. “The foundation was started by the board, and some park board members, staff and a few citizens fundraised, which generated a little over $10,000,” Dickey shared. “Those funds have been sitting and waiting for the right green space project, and I think this is it.” Dickey called Kristi Reynolds, executive director at Community Foundation of Boone County, and explained that he would need to pull the funds from the foundation’s account, that it is an 80/20 program and that he would need fiscal partners as part of the grant’s criteria. “She said she thought it was a great idea and that she had discretionary funds of up to $5,000, so we had another $5K after that phone call,” Dickey exclaimed. “She urged me to present the need for fiscal partners as part of the grant application process to her board, which I did a few weeks ago, and they voted to give us another $5,000. So, we are now up to some $22,000 for the purposes of this grant application.” The Next Level Trails Grant is fiercely competitive with over 80 applicants in the mix. Dickey is hoping to be awarded the grant in the first round, which should be announced in the coming days, as the grant applicants were told to expect the winner of round one to be announced in May. We will provide our readers with an update on this story once the grant winner has been announced. For detailed information on all the parks and trail amenities in Zionsville, visit zionsville-in.gov/255/Parks.