Crumbling bricks being restored. Dark, empty windows coming to life. A restaurant where there was once a neglected building. Historic edifices returned to their former glory.
Exciting things are happening in Lagro, a rural community about 10 minutes Northeast of Wabash. It all began with a dream and a trail. Local resident and cyclist, Amy Ford, often biked between the communities of Lagro and Wabash and imagined the possibility of a trail connecting the Wabash River Walk to Lagro that could meander along the river. At the same time, Justin Gillespie was contemplating starting a small business and hoping to help revitalize the community his family had been a part of for generations. The two connected, along with a crew of like-minded people, and they began The Wabash River Trail, Incorporated, to make their dream a reality.
Through private donations and community support, the expansion of the trail began. It became an inspiration before it was complete. During construction, community members inspired by the progress founded a nonprofit called the Lagro Canal Foundation. The Lagro Canal Foundation has been working to restore old buildings in town for the benefit of the community and the preservation of history. This is attracting more investors to consider what else could happen in Lagro for retail, restaurants, and housing opportunities.
Finished near the end of 2021, the new portion of the trail that connects the communities of Wabash and Lagro is a beautiful spot for locals and tourists alike.
“It is one thing to see the river as you pass by it in a car, but it is quite another experience to see it as you walk alongside it,” says Ford. “The flora and fauna and changes in the seasons make this trail a unique treasure. As the foliage falls, the views of the Wabash River expand.”
In addition to the natural beauty of the trail, Ford points out that another aspect that makes the trail special is that there are no road crossings, making a place for cyclists and pedestrians to travel unimpeded. These are some of the reasons Wabash Mayor Scott Long has seen the positive impacts of the trail for the community; local people are using it to experience nature and train for events; he is also seeing an increase in visitors from outside of Wabash to utilize the picturesque space.
The trail itself was built with private funds. Portions of the land the trail was built on were donated by the City of Wabash, while other portions were made available by private landowners. According to Mayor Long, the land would have been difficult to develop otherwise, and the trail offered the opportunity to help the communities of Wabash County continue to grow and attract more residents and tourists.
“We need to create the assets that people are looking for,” Long says, “A good trail system is a part of that. We continue to create those things that people seek for their hometowns: inclusive playground, trails, great parks, creative businesses, and opportunities.”
Some of those creative businesses have opened already, with more in the works. Along with helping to develop the trail, Justin Gillespie, with his family and friends, took a 19th century abandoned house along the river and turned it into the Riparian House, an Airbnb accommodation, which attracts visitors from all over the country. He and his business partner also opened the 950 Speakeasy Bistro, a family-friendly eatery along the trail.
“The establishment of the Wabash River Trail gave me more confidence to implement and seek those opportunities,” says Gillespie. The proximity to the trail has paid off, too.
“We attract quite a few people traveling along the trail,” he says. “Many make it a destination spot and will stop to eat and enjoy a craft cocktail or one of our specialty beers on tap.”
In addition to Gillespie’s ventures, another Airbnb-style venue called Hopewell House has been established in another historic home, and according to Christine Flohr of Visit Wabash County, a new ice cream parlor and a nut roaster are also in the works.
In addition to encouraging new business growth, the new trail system is also encouraging new events, like the Wabash Run the River Half Marathon, and enhancing old ones. What originally began as a 50th birthday celebration has morphed into the Dam-to-Dam Century Ride; now in its 13th year, it attracts close to 1,000 riders from 24 different states. This ride, designed by cyclists, has seven different mileage routes, making it perfect for riders of all abilities to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Wabash River Trail and the Salamonie State Forest.
“The trail provides a scenic and safer option for the shorter distance riders as the trail is at the beginning of all of the routes,” Flohr says. “Riders are thrilled to enjoy the greenway and all of the wildlife that they encounter, like bald eagles.”
Visit Wabash County also sponsors special events, like Bluegrass at Hopewell, cocktail mixology classes, and monthly trolley tours. Thanks to the Wabash River Trail, whether an avid cyclist or a casual walker, the small community of Lagro has become a destination in Wabash County.
Visit the trails, local businesses, or attend one of Visit Wabash County’s special events, and you will see all that Lagro and Wabash County has to offer.
“We believe that everything starts with a visit,” Flohr says.
Dam-to-Dam Century Ride
The 13th annual Wabash County: Dam to Dam Century Ride is scheduled for Sept. 11 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets range from $40-$70. Learn more and register at visitwabashcounty.com.