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The Sweetser Switch Trail is a “sweet” paved rail-trail and an important regional connector in spite of its short 4-mile length. The trail joins the 2-mile Converse Junction Trail in the west and a segment of the Cardinal Greenway in the east, making it a key piece of north-central Indiana’s trail system.
The path runs from the community of Mier in the west to the east end of the small town of Sweetser. It follows the original corridor of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad branch line built through here between Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago in the 1860s. Conrail took over the corridor in 1976 before service ended in the 1980s.
Local lore says Sweetser’s unusual name is derived from the installation of a 0.5-mile railroad switch in 1869 that spawned the community, which the railroaders first called Switch, then Switzer, and then Sweetser. At one time, the town’s depot served eight passenger trains daily between two different railroads.
The history of the trail itself is a little uncommon. When residents explored the possibility of turning the right-of-way into a trail, they first had to create a park board because the small town didn’t have a parks and recreation department. Then the residents chipped in with donations and volunteer labor to complete the path’s first mile. Maybe that’s why the trail is so beloved locally.
The route expanded to 3 paved miles in 2003, and by 2011 the Cardinal Greenway met it on the east side. In 2016, the Sweetser Switch Trail extended another mile to the community of Mier, this time using federal and state grants in addition to private donations.
Beginning at the Converse Junction Trail terminus in the west, the path parallels the short-line Central Railroad of Indianapolis, primarily a grain hauler. You’ll cross a covered bridge in a mile, then continue down a path bordered by trees, with wildflowers in the clearings, until you reach Sweetser.
Two restored railcars and a caboose, outfitted with restrooms and water, sit at the Main Street trailhead, making this a worthwhile stop. Food is available in town. You’ll also find a 5-foot statue of Garfield the comic strip cat in Sweetser; it’s one of almost a dozen such statues scattered around Grant County to acknowledge the cartoon’s creator and area native Jim Davis.
Heading east for the final mile, you’ll pass more railroad artifacts and notice more clearings along the route. The Sweetser Switch Trail ends at a trailhead shortly after another covered bridge. Cross the railroad tracks here to pick up the Cardinal Greenway heading east toward Marion.
To access the eastern trailhead in Sweetser: From I-69, take Exit 264 to IN 18 toward Marion. Head west 10.7 miles and turn left onto County Road 400 W. Go 0.2 mile and find the trailhead on the right.
To access the main trailhead in Sweetser: From I-69, take Exit 264 to IN 18 toward Marion. Head west 11.7 miles and turn left onto Main St. Go 0.4 mile to the trailhead on Main St.
To access the western trailhead: From I-69, take Exit 264 to IN 18 toward Marion. Head west 13.7 miles and turn left onto CR 700 W. Go 0.1 mile and find the trailhead on the left. Take the trail 1 mile west to the endpoint.
Great trail rest stops pavilions ice on the way.
It may be short, but a direct connection with the fantanamous Cardinal Greenway Trail to Jonesboro makes this a 27.4 mile round trip trail set! The Sweetser Switch Trail was a small piece of the Pennsylvania Railroad's "Main Line - Columbus to Chicago", a 60mph, double track, passenger and freight railroad. Conrail downgraded these "Panhandle" lines in 1982, and most of the trackage is now ripped up. The Panhandle Pathway, between Kenneth and Winamac, is a longer portion of this same line, heading toward Chicago. There are several notable railroad relics on the trail, in particular, two beautiful cast concrete mileposts, in pristeen condition. Milepost "C163", indicating the spot 163 miles west of Columbus Union Depot, so engraved, is located just 0.1 miles east of the Main Street trail complex, and "C164" is located 0.9 miles west of the trailhead. Another sweet little set of remnants are the ground off concrete signal bases for "CP (Controlled Point)-Tykle", located just west of MP164. There was an interlocking plant here (signals and switches), controlled by the tower in Marion, where the Nickel Plate crossed this line. I have a 1940's Union Switch & Signal 8x10 black and white photo which shows an eastbound K4-headed eastbound passenger train passing this plant! Connected with this signal system, check out the relay case, and its adjacent concrete battery box, still in place 0.4 miles east of MP164, hidden in the trees on the north side of the right-of-way, hiding along with scattered telegraph poles. Now, if you want to have a look at what this railroad looked like, head east on the Cardinal Trail until you see a break in the treeline on your left. There is a switch connecting the track you are following there, over to the intact stub end of the Pennsy, which serves the GM plant to your north. The views both ways at the grade crossing are beautiful. Two tracks, the westbound welded rail, the eastbound track jointed. The massive pole line. That's what it looked like just a mile or two west, at Sweetser. Incidentally, the solar lights did not come on, and I had especially hoped to see this unique trail lighting in operation. P.S. Try the grilled salmon steak at the restaurant right across "Pennsylvania Street" at Main, directly across from the Sweetser Trailhead. The food there is excellent! Kudos to everyone out at the Sweetser Switch! It is truly one sweet little piece of the Pennsy! -Rich Ballash, Latrobe, PA 9-13-2014.
I am one of the regular users of this fine trail. As a hobby I ride trails throughout the country and I find this trail to be one of the finer trails that I have ridden. One mile of this linear trail is also a park. (Run by the Sweetser Switch Park Board) This part of the trail is manicured with lots of trees on it. You can memorialize a loved one here by purchasing one of the trees on the trail. For about $150 you can memorialize one of your friends or family on the trail and receive a plague as well as a planted tree. This fine trail has a tree nursery that is growing small trees that will later be planted on the trail. All proceeds go to the upkeep of the trail. Volunteers abound from this small town that make this one of the neater trails in the midwest. In 2009 this trail will connect to the Cardinal Greenway and that is causing lots of excitement in this area. Please stop and visit this trail.
My wife and I rode this trail several times last summer (2007). We found the trail to be quite relaxing, if not a bit on the short side. One of our favorite spots is at the West end of the trail… it is a covered bridge with a picnic area going over a small stream. We plan on packing a picnic lunch next season and spending some time at the bridge. I would highly recommend this trail to anyone that is in search of just a pleasant little get away. It will be much better when it is joined with the cardinal greenway to the East, and there are plans in the works to extend it to the West to the town of Converse IN.
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