MERRILLVILE — On a recent sunny morning, it was a tunnel helping make the Erie Lackawanna Trail a little brighter.
The town has hired artist Jillian Van Volkenburgh to paint a mural on the outside of the tunnel that travels under U.S. 30 near the town's border with Schererville.
As Van Volkenburgh's work progressed, she heard from many of the trail users. She said there is “a huge sense of ownership” for those who regularly use the path. Many stopped to thank Van Volkenburgh for the artwork.
Van Volkenburgh is using many bold colors as she completes the public artwork, which will include large leaves and bicycles. Her intent is to “catch people's eye as they go past,” she said.
The Merrillville Parks and Recreation Department in June began seeking proposals from artists for the mural. One of the reasons for the artwork is to deter graffiti there, Parks Director Jan Orlich said.
Van Volkenburgh said murals can prevent tagging out of respect for the artwork. She also is using an anti-graffiti clear-coat on her mural so any tagging could be easily cleaned if it occurs.
Van Volkenburgh added there are many talented graffiti artists who could help beautify areas if given the right opportunities.
Orlich and Town Councilwoman Chrissy Barron met with Van Volkenburgh last week to check out her work and were pleased with what she has accomplished.
Orlich and Barron have more plans to enhance the trail, and they want to work with Van Volkenburgh on other possible ideas, including painting another portion of the tunnel.
They were highly receptive to a functional sculpture concept Van Volkenburgh has to create a solar powered charging station for mobile devices.
Future enhancements already planned for Merrillville's portion of the Erie Lackawanna include resurfacing in 2018, creating a seating area and addressing drainage issues in the tunnel.
There is a need to improve the path because of the heavy use it receives daily.
Recreational activities aren't the only reason people are traveling on the trail, Orlich said. Many use it as a method to get to and from work.