Valpo Parks’ Creekside Trails have become a favorite for the outdoorsy types in Valparaiso and beyond. The trails feature tracks for mountain biking and hiking throughout most of the year, and Valpo Parks grooms specific trails during the winter for fat bike riding, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. Currently, Creekside Trails offers over 13 miles of soft surface trails for biking and hiking and plans are in the works to expand it even further.
On Wednesday, Chris Mahlmann, founder of GreatNews.Life, was invited to ride the trails with Mayor of Valparaiso Matt Murphy and Spaulding Tree Service Owner Robert Spaulding. The tour was led by Kevin Nuppnau, the assistant director of Valpo Parks, and the bikes used were provided by Joshua Sutton and Chuck Gleason, the retail manager of the Outpost service shop and the owner of the Trailyard and Outpost, respectively.
Valpo Parks opened the trails to the public in late 2019. At that time, it was four miles of trails meant to help Valpo get up and get moving outdoors, filling a need in the community.
“The whole goal behind Creekside was to provide an outdoor recreational opportunity for the community,” said Nuppnau. “We wanted a place where people could ride bikes and hike, a place that anyone can enjoy regardless of their age, skill, and ability. We wanted a place outdoors, away from screens, where you can meet new people and enjoy being outside.”
One of the driving forces behind the initiative that led to Creekside Trails was Spaulding. Spaulding has been an avid cyclist since he was young, and he’s traveled to mountain biking trails across the country. As he brought up his kids, they also developed a love for the sport and outdoors. It was then that Spaulding had the idea to create a biking space closer to home.
“We had this idea to go to the city and see how they would feel about putting in a mountain biking trail somewhere. Our city, being the way they are, welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “We acquired about four miles of trail. My family and my company wanted to do it so badly that we volunteered to do the trail ourselves.”
Once the first trails were put down, Spaulding says the Valpo community began to make immediate use of the new space. As community interest and support grew, so did the trails, and soon people were coming from all over the Region and beyond.
“I go there with my family on Saturdays, and I see people coming in from out of town happy and with their families and having fun. It thrills me to see that and makes me want to stay involved,” said Spaulding.
Over the past three years, Creekside Trails has expanded to include more trails. These range from beginner friendly tracks along Salt Creek to mountain-biking courses featuring jumps, ramp walls, and drops. Alongside the trails have grown the Outpost service shop and, more recently, the Trailyard restaurant. The Trailyard offers visitors coffee in the mornings and meals throughout the day, opening right at 7 a.m. and staying open for dinner until 10 p.m. The restaurant offers a rotating menu with many inclusive options, such as vegan and vegetarian-safe substitutes for many dishes.
The Outpost provides guests with quick access to repairs, maintenance, and gear for their bikes while providing quality retail service.
“We are a mountain-bike-focused shop, but we also sell hiking gear and trail running gear,” said Sutton. “We also do rentals. We rent mountain bikes and snowshoes. In our service department, we service any type of bike. If it is a mountain bike, we do our suspension work in-house.”
Sutton and Service and Suspension Manager Ryan Sullivan provide high-quality service and have access to specialized tools that many service shops in the area do not possess. As a result, they frequently have guests travel from around the Midwest to have their bikes serviced at the Outpost. Even when shipping is an option, many guests prefer making the several-hours drive, taking it as an opportunity to explore the trails on one of the Outpost’s rental bikes while theirs is in the shop.
“We really try to make it easier for people to get outside, either for exercise or to see some of the beautiful wildlife we have in Northwest Indiana,” said Sutton. “The Outpost makes that easy for everybody whether they're hiking, biking, taking the family out, or just going out by themselves.”
Sutton makes sure that he trains employees at both the Trailyard and the Outpost about Creekside’s features. The three businesses form a mutually beneficial partnership. As the trails grow, so do the restaurant and service shop, and as those get more popular, more people are directed towards the trails.
Following the tour, Mahlmann was left astounded by this gem in the heart of Valparaiso.
“I have watched online for years, and I know how much time and effort have been put in by so many to get us to this point. I am blown away by how cool it is in person,” he said. “This is an amazing asset right here in Valpo that you won't find anywhere else in the Region. When Kevin invited the mayor and I out for a tour on bikes, I knew it would be a good time. I had no idea how extensive those trails are, and I enjoyed the twists, turns, hills, ramps, trails, and prairies. It was like riding bikes like a kid again. I am hooked.”
With continued recognition, Creekside Trails continues to grow. Valpo Parks has recently partnered with Rock Solid Trail Contracting, a nationally recognized contracting company that specializes in creating mountain biking trails in Midwestern states, to transform a 70-acre plot of land, “the Farm,” into nearly seven miles of additional tracks with a focus on mountain biking. Rock Solid will be taking a walkthrough of the area and creating a plan for what would work on the land.
“In an effort to lay out a full master plan of the whole property–more trails, jump lines, parking, and other infrastructure–we've contracted Rock Solid Trail Contracting,” said Nuppnau. “They'll be walking the property, looking at the typography, and talking to us about what kind of things we'd like them to start designing. We'll see some sketches of what that whole place could look like. Being able to see what is possible out there is something that we're really excited about, and we're excited to partner with Rock Solid because they're one of the best in the industry.”
There are also plans to connect Creekside with downtown Valpo, making access even simpler for residents. Given Creekside’s central location–less than five minutes from downtown Valpo–there is no doubt that the growth of Valparaiso and the growth of Creekside Trails will be mutually beneficial.
“I think this has huge potential,” Murphy said. “It's already becoming a destination for people in Northwest Indiana. I want to encourage everyone to come check it out and explore the trails and enjoy it. It's in your backyard; take advantage of it.”
“It's just a matter of funding in order to build these trails, whether we do it through an outside consulting or contracting company, or whether we do it in-house like we've done so far,” said Nuppnau.
Nuppnau emphasizes that the only reason an incredible spot like Creekside Trails can exist is because of the Valparaiso community and their continued support, be that the public at large or the local businesses that sponsor Valpo Parks.
“It would not be possible without the support of community members, those that love to ride and be outside, but also the corporate donations as well as sponsorships,” said Nuppnau. “It's been a collaborative effort. The City of Valparaiso has been extremely supportive of the entire project. It's been a total team effort in order to get to where we are today.”
Creekside Trails are open year-round, conditions allowing, from sunup to sundown. With the addition of the Trailyard restaurant, it’s now easier than ever to turn an hour of hiking or biking into a day trip to see everything nature has to offer in Northwest Indiana. With the coming expansions, Creekside Trails is sure to become a travel destination for people across the Midwest.
“It's only going to keep growing and growing,” said Sutton.
For updates on Creekside Trails, follow the Facebook page.
To learn more about Valpo Parks and its upcoming events, visit its website.
To stay up to date on news in the City of Valpo, check out its website.