By Herb Hiller
Where a rail
line once poured raw materials into downtown Bloomington, Ind., a trail now
pours cyclists. From downtown, same as ever, finished goods roll out and into the world. What used to
be furniture and cut limestone have become college grads testing their futures.
What else might you expect from Bloomington, a city of 80,000, where more than half the population are
the students, scholars and staff at the main campus of Indiana University?
during Move-in Week, some 10,000 freshmen file in, fanning out with their ambitions four years later. Except that not all 10,000 a year
Many of those
who stay in Bloomington
embrace a civic outlook that ties quality of life to economic development. They
see a city government that values the benefits of trails--trails that supply
safe paths to school and family fitness, trails that rank high when the time
comes to acquire a new place to live. In Bloomington, when trails go in, houses
follow. A few corn silos and barns remain at the last close-in farms, giving
way to subdivision houses with paths that drop from hillside doors to
trails mostly date from 2000. The Wapehani Mountain Bike Trail offers five
miles of single-track adventure six miles southwest of town. A mile of
rail-with-trail connects affordable student housing to campus. Newest is the .6-mile
Jackson Creek Trail that links two eastside schools.
What Bloomington Mayor Mark
Kruzan calls the "most significant economic development
project on the city's agenda. . . monumental in its scope and importance," is
the multi-modal, 12-foot-wide
B-Line Trail. Starting at little more than a half-mile three years ago,
the B-Line's latest extension, completed September this year, carries the trail
a total of 3.1 miles.
juxtaposes city and country. It's textured with bridges and interpretive signs
that spool our way through time. So much that everyone likes about this city
happened along this route. No matter how smooth your tires, history rumbles beneath.
trail culture flourish. The Oscar-winning Breaking
Away from 1979 endowed Bloomington as a nationally iconic cycling city.
Bloomington Velo News blogs about re-showings as well as about Bike Week in
May, the Hilly Hundred in fall, the annual downtown criterium and regional
tournaments hosted by the Bike Polo Club. Two or three downtown shops rent
bikes. The Little 500 is the biggest intramural event on the IU campus, and
America's largest collegiate bike race.
through trail master plans of the city and surrounding Monroe County and you
find trails extending big loops to the northeast, to the south and shafts of
trail across county lines You grasp how Mayor Kruzan's vision suffuses an
entire county's outlook. A hundred additional trail miles will help renew rural
towns and capture new green tourists.
sections of trail linger moist in memory. The B-Line first slopes south with a
mile banked on either side by outcroppings of limestone, mornings slick with
dewy grass. Maple forest shadows the way. Locomotive engineers would have
gently braked their way down, likely long and fondly remembering this sylvan
mills that clustered along the tracks are gone, but hardly the limestone.
Chunks lie in a remaining yard as they once did at almost a dozen mills ready
for loading onto freight cars bound far and wide. Demand followed the Chicago
Fire of 1871 that made flame-scorning limestone the choice for monumental
structures--over time for the National Cathedral, the Empire State Building and
the Pentagon, while also advancing Beaux Arts style in America. The Campus as a Work
of Art by author Thomas Gaines 20 years ago named the limestone-prevalent
IU campus "one of the five most beautiful in America." Downtown
that once clamored with citizen-annoying stone-cutting machines has given way
to student-pleasing finished stone seating (as well as iron street furniture)
for trailside socializing.
feel the city-anchoring power of this trail. A small downtown cabinet business
less than a century ago grew to boast itself the largest furniture company in
the world. The Showers Brothers Company factory's pinnacled roof today houses
trailside offices of Bloomington and Monroe County. Bloomingfoods has opened
its third natural foods market a block south.
Square surrounds the old county courthouse, its perimeter shops almost all
mom-and-pops, including Book Corner with its 5,000 magazines, and several of
Bloomington's nearly 100 distinct restaurants. IU student-pianist Hoagy
Carmichael and touring cornet legend-in-the-making Bix Beiderbecke made 1924
jazz history by performing together here and on campus.
historical sign a block off the trail marks the 1820 site of Indiana Seminary
that became IU.
up everywhere trailside. Fanciful
oversized cut metal fish flash their colors atop trailside poles; cafes
alongside display their menus on colorfully chalked boards. Custom-designed
bike racks show the B-Line logo, and there's the art-splashed WonderLab Science
Museum for kids. A heavy iron trestle, topped by stunning blue geometric
superstructure, carries the trail from downtown over four traffic lanes.
A roundabout at the B-Line's south end connects with the 2.3-mile Clear Creek
Trail that heads north-northwest to a trailhead alongside a busy road. The
trail meanders out in the open among subdivisions and still-open fields, so
that anyone who rides outbound from town will also want to ride both back again
to savor the B-Line's rich palette the other way.
Country Club Road, finely crushed gravel composes the second memorable section
of trail, easy to ride on all but the thinnest tires. Its some two miles
channel through forest that comfortably shades the trail where even summer
afternoon temperatures drop a cooling eight to 10 degrees. Cyclists appearing
around curves hear the phantom squeal of steel wheels against steel track.
Clear Creek itself dribbles south from the roundabout beneath the old Harris
Ford Suspension Bridge, relocated here after 113 years of service nearby.
mile, the trail continues rideable though narrowing path. The way stays wet
after rain. Roots and flinty outcroppings turn the path slick and dangerous,
enough to turn anyone back. That's not to say you can't--or won't--return.
Herb Hiller is at work on a book on unmarketed
travel, of which Bloomington will serve as a chapter. He is Florida's Trail
Advocate of the Year.
Photos (top to bottom, left to right): downtown Bloomington, courtesy of the city of Bloomington; the B-Line Trail, courtesy of the city of Bloomington; the B-Line Trail, by Herb Hiller; art along the trail, by Herb Hiller; new B-Line Bridge over Grimes Lane.