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Downtown Kokomo trail helps city take step in right direction

What do cities such as Chicago; Portland, Oregon; San Antonio; and Savannah, Georgia, have in common? Besides being popular tourist destinations, they all boast vibrant, inviting river walks as part of their cityscapes.

In her article, “America’s Coolest River Walks,” writer April Orcutt says, “Some river walks run along major waterways like the Mississippi and Ohio; others follow narrow canals. Some reflect history going back decades, while others represent newer developments designed to revitalize a city.”

Revitalization — or breathing new life into an area — was exactly what the city of Kokomo, Indiana, and its former mayor, Greg Goodnight, envisioned for the downtown section of its urban trail known as the Wildcat Creek Walk of Excellence.

And Hanson was there to help the mayor and city realize their vision.

Virtual reality brings concept to life

Wildcat Creek prior to renovations

Wildcat Creek before the trail project began. Located in a former industrial area, the creek often flooded and was a dumping ground.

Like many U.S. cities, Kokomo has examined ways to revitalize and improve its downtown. With the 84-mile-long Wildcat Creek running through the heart of downtown and a former industrial area, the city has faced challenges, such as flooding, trash dumping and deteriorating buildings.

A trail wove through the area, but Kokomo’s mayor at the time, Goodnight, wanted to clean up the entire corridor and create an attractive and accessible trail, featuring interesting and innovative elements on both sides of the creek.

The mayor had a vision for an urban trail that would connect people to the city and nature and create a robust area for commerce, wellness and community.

3D virtual reality tour
Hanson helped bring the trail concept to life by creating a 3D virtual reality tour, allowing Kokomo’s mayor and the city to see how the trail and design elements would look and function before the project was constructed.

The city turned to Hanson to lead the project’s design, which included providing options for the trail and development, helping visualize the potential trail and improvements and creating an inviting space. Helping the mayor and the city see the space’s potential was crucial to this project’s advancement.

Hanson used an innovative approach — virtual reality — to model the new trail, amenities and development. Using drone footage, aerial and ground surveys and lidar (light detection and ranging), Hanson created a 3D virtual reality tour that allowed the mayor to see how the trail and design elements would look and function before the project was fully designed or constructed. It gave the mayor and city council the confidence to proceed with the project.

Trail offers educational, economic benefits

As the project got underway, Hanson worked closely with the city, residents and developers to coordinate the planning, design and construction of the trail and its impact on future development. Hanson was the lead consultant, directing the $10 million project from conceptual design development through final construction documents.

In addition to the 1-mile-long trail, the project included sidewalks, retaining walls, four bridges and landscaping. The project team also designed unique features along the trail, including swings, benches, planters, handrails and amphitheater.

Wildcat Creek Walk of Excellence
The Wildcat Creek Walk of Excellence connects people with Kokomo’s downtown attractions, public transportation and outside venues and amenities, including an amphitheater, picnic tables and swings.

Hanson worked with the team’s geotechnical engineers to develop designs to make the soil along the creek suitable and stable for the construction of the bridges and retaining walls and reduce negative impacts to the creek.

One way they demonstrated a commitment to sustainability was by using helical piles, or driven H-piles. The helical piles were easier to construct within the tight space constraints caused by the creek’s steep banks, and the ability to drill the piles and leave them in place allowed the contractor to use smaller equipment. Precast concrete walls and permeable brick pavers also helped minimize negative impacts to the creek and its banks.

Hanson’s team also collaborated with federal, state and local agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the local soil and water conservation district to reduce environmental impacts to the creek and surrounding areas, clean up the area, identify possible unfavorable soil conditions and prepare the necessary permits to ensure the project could proceed with minimal impacts to the environment and public.

Another unique aspect of this project involved coordination with the local school district — the Kokomo-Center Township Consolidated School Corp. — to design an outdoor learning environment for middle school students. The trail offers students safe access to the creek to collect water samples, conduct science experiments and observe nature.

The trail was designed and built in conjunction with more than $100 million worth of new and planned development. The trail has attracted businesses, including a bicycle rental shop, restaurants, apartment buildings, hotels, meeting venues and retail shops.

This is important as the city seeks to improve the quality of life for its residents and attract people to Kokomo. This project and Hanson also have been recognized by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Indiana and the American Public Works Association’s Indiana Chapter.

With the trail complete and areas in its downtown developing, Kokomo’s future is on the path to growth, vitality and sustainability.

To learn more about this project, contact Jim Trachtman, vice president and Indiana business development lead, at or (317) 803-8962.

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