Brown and Morgan counties have hosted runners in a variety of distance events during the Tecumseh Trail Challenge every year since 2003.
The trail has been a destination for runners from dozens of states who participate in the DINO (Do INdiana off-road) race, with participation growing to more than 700 in 2010. But now the point-to-point race route has been turned into a loop due to the Indian Hill Road railroad crossing closure.
As of Oct. 8, DINO and the Indiana Trail Running Association had no progress with creating a pedestrian railroad crossing, forcing them to make the Tecumseh Trail Challenge a looped route. DINO Director Brian Holzhausen said it was a “difficult decision.”
“At this point our registration is down about 40 percent from what we had in the last couple of years,” he said on Oct. 8. “We do think that a significant reason is the change from our historical, point-to-point race route.”
The Tecumseh Trail Marathon and Challenge races included a marathon distance (26.2 miles) point-to-point race from Morgan Monroe State Forest headquarters to Yellowwood Lake. It is slated to take place Oct. 23.
DINO and the Hoosier Hikers Council founded the race. DINO is one of the groups that depends upon Indian Hill Road as a “vital connection point” along the Tecumseh Trail, Holzhausen wrote in an open letter to the Indiana Rail Road Company, Brown County Commissioners, Indiana DNR and all involved with the closure of Indian Hill Road south of State Road 45.
The closure was announced during a commissioners meeting in 2020. The Indiana Rail Road had been discussing what to do with the crossing for about two years then formally requested that the county close it. The rail road company could have bypassed the commissioners to close it since it was a public safety issue due to sight lines, Highway Superintendent Mike Magner explained.
Indian Hill Road residents told commissioners at the meetings in 2020 that they were not notified of the closure.
Magner said last year that the county was working with a trail group to install a pedestrian crossing over the railroad. That has not yet happened.
“Closure of Indian Hill Road at the railroad crossing imposes obvious and severe challenges on local residents,” Holzhausen wrote.
“Closure also challenges the wide range of recreational activities and user groups that depend on passage through the crossing. Complete closure of the Tecumseh Trail at this key point effectively shuts down the potential to complete long distance hikes and trail runs.”
“We know with certainty that hikers, backpackers, cyclists and local residents all depend upon passage through this crossing. We expect that hunters, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts also feel the effect of the closure,” Holzhausen continued.
The point-to-point route is a “huge factor” in attracting runners for the Tecumseh Trail Challenge, he said.
The group charters in school buses to shuttle runners to the start line then they run back. He said this route creates a “highly memorable” and “unique” experience in the world of running races. Runners have a strong sense of accomplishment from driving for an hour through hills and valleys, then running back to their point of origin, he said.
“With multiple distance options, preventing runners from making wrong turns is quite difficult,” he said of making the race into a loop. “Runners definitely value the point-to-point experience of not repeating any step of the course, which is not the case with the alternative looped course.”
This not only hurts both DINO and the Indiana Trail Running Association, the co-director of the event, but it also poses a problem for October tourism in Brown County, Holzhausen said.
“It also means fewer visitors lodging, dining and shopping in the area as a result,” he said.
Indiana State Rep. Chris May also wrote to Peter Ray, the vice president of engineering at the Indiana Rail Road Company, urging the company to establish a pedestrian crossing for the trail in August.
May said that without a pedestrian crossing, the only way to get across the railroad is to take a five to six mile walking detour.
“I have no doubt that a pedestrian crossing should be established in a safe manner at this location just as pedestrian rail crossings have been established elsewhere,” May said.
“There are many trail lovers in and around my district who support a pedestrian crossing so that other Hoosiers can continue to safely enjoy the activities they love.”
The Indiana Rail Road Company could not be reached for comment by deadline.