The Missing Link

For those in search of a new avenue to take part in Southern Indiana’s diverse and often underappreciated nature and wildlife scene, the recently completed University of Southern Indiana-Burdette Trail stands second to none.

Meandering almost exactly three miles through field and forest, the trail connects USI and Burdette Park, and already it has gotten a lot of use from USI students and Evansville natives.

Depending on whether you start at USI or Burdette (the two partners in the pathway’s construction and continued maintenance), the trail offers a nearly straight shot southeast or northwest. That said, the trail is full of nature’s charm, hooking around and over hills to maintain a less than five percent grade at any given section.

USI owns the land used for the trail, which begins at USI’s University Boulevard between the Physical Activities Center and the Recreation, Fitness, and Wellness Center. The trail heads south for a little more than a mile until it reaches USI’s Broadway Recreational Complex on Broadway Avenue. From there, it crosses Broadway (one of only two road crossings along the trail) and dives into wilder terrain, where it continues for another mile or so along the southern Indiana landscape. It then crosses its second junction at Nurrenburn Road, where the trail cuts east past Burdette’s Discovery Lodge and finishes out at the park, making the trail a great place to experience nature on a jog or bike ride.

It took more than 20 years to create this newest addition to the Evansville community’s network of paths and trails. As a student at USI and an employee at Burdette, Steve Craig (now Burdette’s general manager) discussed upgrading what was at the time no more than a narrow dirt path from the campus to the park. The idea was tossed around over the years until 2005, when Burdette and USI began a trail location study.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place in February 2007, and the first section of the trail in Burdette was completed by November of the same year.

Construction continued bit by bit while Burdette and USI awaited matching grants from Vanderburgh County, Craig says. The final segments connecting USI and Burdette drew to a close in August 2012, meaning the three-mile stretch was completed in a little more than four years. Partnering organizations held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 10, 2012.

For Craig, the beauty of the trail has yet to be fully realized. To grasp the full potential of what the trail will offer, he says, residents will have to experience it over the course of a year. “It’s a four-season trail,” he says. “It’s gorgeous all year round — the fall was incredible, and (when) we get a little bit of snow, there’s no prettier or safer walk than that.”

Craig also can’t wait to see how the trail can bring people together. Not long after the trail was completed, Burdette hosted a YMCA after-school group, and the kids in the program planted trees. Many of those children have brought family back to see their efforts. Trees also can be planted in memory of loved ones, offering a memorial that will pass down through generations, Craig says. “We see it more every day, people who are connected to it.”

Craig hopes to see school groups take advantage of the trail’s educational outlets and return to outdoor basics. “It’s an outdoor classroom for people and kids to get connected with all the things they’re getting away from,” he says. “You bring kids out, and they have a blast.”

USI has the same goal. It hopes the Evansville community will bike or walk in a nook not far from civilization.

“The university campus is over 1,400 acres in size,” says Mark Rozewski, vice president for finance and administration at USI. “The core academic area only uses about 300 of those 1,400 acres, so the idea was to take this tremendous reservoir of very beautiful land and to introduce it to the broader community as an asset we can all share, and it has certainly achieved that goal.”

Though Rozewski says USI has been a vital component of Evansville since the university’s formation, the trail has helped members of the community discover aspects of the campus that previously didn’t receive much attention.

“Because of our location on the far West Side, it was geographically less accessible,” he says. “Now there are reasons to come here other than to visit our library or see a theater performance. It’s been great to see the number of people discovering USI for the first time.”

The trail will likely only get better, too. USI already has constructed connecting pathways from dorms to the trail, and Craig says Burdette plans to embellish the trail to allow local residents to observe more wildlife.

“We can definitely see it growing into a larger network,” says Rozewski. “It’s a spectacular recreational amenity for all of Evansville.”

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