Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mike Cloud & Penn Central

When I was reporting to the Pumpkinvine Advisory Committee recently about a rails-to-trails conference I attended, I was reminded of the first national rails-to-trails conference I attended in Baltimore in 1991. It was a fateful conference because it put our new Friends group in touch with the right person at Penn Central, the owner of the Pumpkinvine corridor.

The conference had a workshop session called something like "Meet the railroad representatives," and naturally I wanted to attend. At the time, we had made contact by letter with Penn Central Corp., the owner of the  Pumpkinvine corridor, but the person we were in contact with in the Cincinnati, Ohio office didn't seem all that interested in our small group of trail advocates. I went to the meeting hoping that personal contact would make a difference.

I went to the meeting room and looked around for someone from Penn Central. I don't remember how I found their area, but when I did, I introduced myself to Mike Cloud, the real-estate representative of Penn Central, and immediately asked him if they were interested in selling the Pumpkinvine. He said they were, and I was thrilled. We exchanged phone number (this was before email), and I invited him to come to Elkhart County to see the Pumpkinvine corridor, which he did sometime later. I took him around the county to look at the all the places the Pumpkinvine crossed a county road, and he agreed that it would make a fine trail.

It took over a year for us to negotiate a selling price of $100,000 -- all the result of that personal meeting in Baltimore. Mike Cloud came to Goshen for the closing. We handed him a check for $100,000 in a little ceremony at Schrock pavilion in Shanklin Park.

Shaded and unshaded areas of the Pumpkinvine

One of the obvious features of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail is that it has both shaded and unshaded areas. The shaded areas are where the trail is on the former railroad corridor. The railroad was built on a strip of land that was either 66 or 80 feet wide, and the railroad bed was only 10 feet wide in the center of that larger strip. Over the 100 plus years since the railroad was built, trees grew up in the areas beside the trail, resulting in the shaded areas we enjoy today.

The unshaded areas are the result of the need to leave the old  Pumpkinvine corridor and go around various farm fields because the railroad's title to the corridor was just an easement that reverted to the adjacent landowner when the railroad abandoned the line or because the corridor split a farm field and the Friends of the Pumpkinvine decided to allow the farmer to square off their field.

The trees along the Pumpkinvine provide us with shade from summer's sun and a windbreak all year round.

Riding the trail recently on a very windy day, I noticed a major difference in the degree to which the shaded areas blocked the wind, something I hadn't thought about before. In areas where the trail was shaded only by the trees on the corridor, I noticed a modest decrease in the wind. But where the trail went through a forest, the protection of that mass of trees was much greater. The 20 mph wind in those areas was hardly noticeable. I wish we had more of them.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Memorable day

Today I took a ride on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail from Goshen to Shipshewana. I left Goshen around 8:30 a.m. after eating a pancake and sausage breakfast at the MCC Relief Sale at the Elkhart County fairgrounds. I took the Monroe Street Trail to the Abshire Trail to the Pumpkinvine. It was a cool 50 degrees, a hint of fall.

As I rode north, I passed a large group of Amish cyclists heading south, perhaps going to the Relief Sale. Coming back hours later, I passed three or four Amish groups, which is more than I normally see.

But the group that was most memorable was a family of six I saw east of the DQ. I was riding east when I saw three small kids coming toward me. The two youngest were on scooters with small wheels (the kind you stand on) and the oldest had a scooter bike with no pedals. Their parents were 30 yards behind them, the husband pushing a baby carriage with an infant inside. It was the type of scene that make the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail worthwhile -- young parents strolling along with their kids (not on screens) enjoying the freedom of the trail. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Memorial to Ike Heign dedicated Sept. 19, 2018

The Heign family with memorial stone: Greg, Bob, Mary Lou, Randy and Jeff. The memorial is located along the Pumpkinvine, 100 yards south of Sun Rise Lane.
Members of the Heign family gathered on Sept. 19 to dedicate a section the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in Middlebury to Ike Heign. Jim Smith, former executive director of the Friends who negotiated the purchase of the land from the Heign family, offered the following remarks.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, Bob Carrico, our Trail Operations Manager, and I pulled into the driveway of Mary Lou Heign not far from where we are standing today. It was about 7:30 in the evening and the sun was setting. We were there representing the board of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. We brought with us a Purchase Contract signed by John Yoder, our president, a check for earnest money, a good pen and high hopes.
We were there to purchase what we called "the Heign property." The "Heign property" was not a big parcel of land. It was part of the old railroad corridor that ran through Middlebury and was about one acre in size, a long, skinny piece of real estate which started at Sunrise Lane and extended south about a quarter of a mile. But it was huge to us! Without this 33-foot wide parcel, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail would pass through the million-dollar US 20 tunnel, go past "That Pretty Place" and end with a whimper about here, in the middle of nowhere. We really needed that piece of land; without it, there was no obvious way to build a trail through Middlebury. But of course, we did not want to look or sound desperate as we made an offer to purchase the "Heign property."
We weren't far into our meeting before we realized that Mary Lou and her sons were supporters of the trail. They too wanted to see it pass through Middlebury and link up with Shipshewana and Goshen. It didn't take us long to reach terms acceptable to all. Then Mary Lou mentioned that she would like the portion of the trail that would be built on the "Heign Property" to be named in honor of her late husband, Ike. He had also been a supporter of the trail, but unfortunately had died in an auto accident the year before. I hand-wrote that condition onto the bottom of the agreement, and we both initialed it. The meeting soon ended, and we were gone.
After the signing, I worried from time to time about how we could be sure that that condition, that promise, penciled onto the bottom of our Purchase Agreement, would be fulfilled. Six years later, I left the Pumpkinvine Board. Then in 2013, the corridor, to include the Heign property, was transferred to the Middlebury Park Board and the trail was built. And life went on. Then, just a few days ago, a call came to me from John Yoder. I was delighted to learn that after some 13 years, that handwritten promise at the bottom of the purchase agreement was to become reality.

I am very pleased to be here today, to again thank Mary Lou and her family for selling the land that made the trail through Middlebury possible, and at long last, to participate in dedicating this section of the trail to the memory of Ike Heign.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The importance of maintenance

When I became interested in rails-to-trails in the early 1990s, the closest trail to when I lived was the Kal-Haven Trail, formally known as the Kal-Haven Sesquicentennial State Park:  https://www.traillink.com/trail/kal-haven-trail-sesquicentennial-state-park/   The trail runs 34 miles from west of Kalamazoo to South Haven Michigan with a crushed stone surface. Whenever I needed inspiration and a renewed vision of what the Pumpkinvine corridor might become, I'd make the hour-plus drive from Goshen to the Kal-Haven and the ride was a tonic: I loved the small towns along the route, the smooth surface the trees along the trail and the open agricultural areas.

When I wanted to show others what the  Pumpkinvine corridor could become, I'd take them to the Kal-Haven for show-and-tell. The message was simply:  "We can do this, too." My most memorable excursion of this type was with our state representative, Marvin Riegsecker. At a time when Indiana had zero miles of rails-to-trails, he was the only state elected official willing to look at one and become educated about their potential.

For a public meeting to discuss the desirability of the trail in Middlebury, I arranged for a Kal-Haven adjacent landowner and former leader of the opposition to the Kal-Haven, Steve Haddad, to come to Middlebury to explain how his attitude had changed from opposition to becoming a member of the Friends of the Kal-Haven board. When the Friends of the Pumpkinvine formed as a non-profit organization, we borrowed our bylaws from the Friends of the Kal-Haven. We also considered the idea of having a user fee to fund on-going maintenance of the Pumpkinvine like the Kal-Haven did.

So in many ways, the Kal-Haven was an inspiration for the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.  However, in recent years, I've been hearing less positive stories about the Kal-Haven. When I met trail users from southern Michigan on the Pumpkinvine, I would ask them why they came to ride the Pumpkinvine when the Kal-Haven Trail was much closer, and they would say that they liked the asphalt surface of the Pumpkinvine better or that it was more interesting than the Kal-Haven.

Then I talked with a friend who had ridden the Kal-Haven recently, and he also said that he enjoyed the Pumpkinvine much more than the Kal-Haven. That comment led to a discussion of its weaknesses, most of which can be summed up in the phrase, lack of maintenance. He noted that there were sections that had been patched with large stones that made crossing the area with a narrow-tired bike difficult and dangerous.  (He fell once in such a section.) He said the railroad cabooses that were used to distribute trail maps looked uncared for, and the trail itself had areas where grass was growing up in the middle -- an indication of little trail traffic.

My point in writing this blog about the Kal-Haven, which I haven't seen in 15 years, is to underscore the importance of maintaining a trail after it is built. I think it would be a tragedy for all the supporters who have helped build the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail to have it decline because we didn't have the vision to see how important maintenance is for the health of the trail. As we near the completion of the Pumpkinvine, it becomes increasingly important that we keep the importance of maintenance in mind -- plan for it, raise funds for it and talk about it as a priority.

Friday, August 17, 2018

That's a wrap folks

I've spent the last two weeks of my internship frantically trying to wrap up my different projects (with this blog post being the last of them). 

I finished up my management plan which clocked in at 27 pages, made a new home page for the website (check it out at pumpkinvine.org)  emailed approximately 5 billion people, and got bit by some more mosquitos. 

Yesterday I met with my supervisors for the last time over lunch (I highly recommend Kelly Jae's Key Lime Pie), and then presented my work from this summer to the Friends board.

It would be impossible to quickly explain everything I did this summer. So I'll just say I spent this summer learning a lot about what it means to be self driven and holding myself accountable to get my work done while also learning more about plants than I ever thought I would need to know.

So that's basically it from me, I just want to say thanks for reading my blog posts this summer, and thanks to John Smith and John Yoder for giving me the opportunity to work on the Pumpkinvine this summer.

So this is Isabela Torres, signing off!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Two weeks left?

The summer is wrapping up as GCS begins the 2018-19 school year on Wednesday, and with it so wraps up my summer internship. There are only two weeks left and yet it feels like there is so much left to do!

I still have to make significant edits to my long term management plan before submitting it to the different parks departments, I want to begin composing a Spanish translation for the Friends website, I need to write an official thesis proposal for my school (Amherst College), I need to contact the parties who funded my summer here and thank them for making this opportunity economically feasible, I need to prepare a final presentation on my work for the Friends' board, and I need to take time to stop and smell the roses.

Obviously not the multiflora roses though because those are invasive.

This summer has been so full of new experiences -- namely living at home for the first time since I left for college in 2015. I've done a lot of work from The Brew, JoJo's Pretzels, and my bed (from which I write this post right now). I am doing work for a job that I never would have imagined myself having (and even less, enjoying) in places that I grew up in. I applied to colleges in these places, imagining myself majoring in Flute Performance, maybe a minor in Spanish or Political Science, definitely playing in my college marching band.

I find myself back in my favorite spots for getting work done going into my senior year of college as an Environmental Studies major who plays on the rugby team and has not touched her flute in over a year.

I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how different I am from who I thought I would be, but living in Goshen again has made me realize that some things never change. I still love a straight forward original pretzel, prefer maple frosted cinnamon rolls over vanilla, and will fall asleep working in my bed 100% of the time.

The beauty of interning for the Friends this summer has been getting to watch this new version of myself interact with places and people of my past. So many things can change, but I can always count on the tornado siren going off at 2pm on Thursday. I know every person I walk/bike/run past will smile, nod, and say hi no matter what.  And I know that this place will always feel like home.

So this post is less about the specifics of my work on the trail this summer (in short: hot, mosquitos, poison ivy, meetings, technology, writing, research, emails), and instead it is about how much I appreciate having the opportunity to be here for one last summer and give back to the community that has given me so much.

This feels like a farewell post, but as the title of this blog post suggests -- I still have two more weeks! So keep your eyes peeled for a farewell post that is much less about me, and much more about the final products of all the work I've done this summer and where I see nature management headed for the Pumpkinvine in the years to come!

--Isabela Torres