Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016 Blog statistic

I notice from the statistics that Google keeps about this blog that the Friends of the Pumpkinvine have posted only 11 blogs this year, down from

Flashbacks in the Trail Talk Friends of the Pumpkinvine newsletter

Four years ago I started doing a regular feature in the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Trail Talk newsletter called "Flashbacks," in which I highlighted something in the history of the Pumpkinvine (trail or Friends) organization that was significant five, 10, 15 and 20 years ago. The purpose of this feature was to remind people of the effort it takes to produce something like the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.  There were multiple law suits, lots of uncertainty, generous donations and times of celebration along the say. I thought that knowing some of that history might make people more patient when the see the slow progress on closing the gaps in the trail.

I enjoyed digging into the history through old newsletters and timelines. How easy it is to forget the people and critical events that brought us to today.

However, as I was thinking about flashbacks for the coming March 2017 issue, it occurred to me that there is a slight flaw in my method going forward. If I were to continue to do flashback at five-year intervals going back 20 years, then in the fifth year of that cycle, I would start repeating events from previous flashbacks. In other words, the 10-year flashback of 2017, i.e., 2007, is the same as the five -year flashback of  2012, i.e., 2007, and so on.

Since I started the flashbacks four years ago, I have one more year to do them before I start repeating the events, but the writing is on the wall, as they say.   I will need to find another method for giving people a sense of trail history or decide that it isn't important to know that much history.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A 80-mile birthday walk ends on the Pumpkinvine

A 80-mile birthday walk ends on the Pumpkinvine
By B. Harry Dyck
An 80th birthday is something special. Considering the longevity of US males is only 76.61 years, I am quite happy to be on the plus side of that rather sobering statistic. One regular activity that has surely contributed to my longevity is walking, an exercise I have now followed for at least a decade. Wanting to do something unique for this 80th birthday, I decided an 80-mile walk would serve that purpose memorably, and I intended to do the 80 miles in eight days. To add a little variant, I started looking for coins, since my daughter and I had been competing for years in this fun challenge.
My first day’s walk was a 12-mile loop with a celebratory stop for a coffee and bagel at Panera Bread, two miles from home. Day two took me on another loop – in the opposite direction -- an 11-miler to our former home in Elkhart where, as luck would have it, I found some friends and neighbors at home willing to socialize over coffee and cookies (That surely adds to longevity too, not so?)  Day 3 Eric, my son-in-law dropped me off in Nappanee from where I would walk home. Alas, the break for coffee and a refill of water that I had intended in Wakarusa was not to be since their shops on my route were all closed on Sundays. Too bad since I was already low on water. What to do? Keep on walking, that’s what - down CR 3 until I heard a human voice coming from the open window of a nearby farm house. In response to my call and request for water a friendly voice invited me to ‘Come on up.”  I was promptly supplied with my water needs but with the happy discussion following about commemorating my upcoming 80th birthday, this kind lady acknowledged that she had had a birthday just the day before. I doubt that she had half as many birthdays as I, but, ‘Joy’  -   on with my walk.  By the time I had covered 10 miles, rain threatened but thanks to cell phones, my chauffeur son-in-law arrived to rescue me moments before the clouds opened.
My Days 4 and 5 were noteworthy for the delightful repast I enjoyed with Jim Smith, Goshen, and a brand-new golf ball I found off the sidewalk in Bristol. By Day 6, I had already walked 64 miles and nothing to rue the undertaking yet except for one blister under my big toe, nothing that a bandage and an extra sock could not remedy.
And then I was on to the last 18 miles of my Birthday walk - from Shipshewana, down our renowned Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, through Middlebury, and on to my goal - The Chief Ice Cream Shop in Goshen where a dozen of my finest friends joined me to celebrate the venture I had undertaken. As for the accumulation of valuables I sought:  I found 32 cents, that aforementioned golf ball, and enough hardware to go into business selling used nuts and bolts.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Seniors are generous contributors to the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Last fall the Friends of the Pumpkinvine recently sent out a fundraising appeal to close the gap in the Pumpkinvine between CR 33 and CR 20. As responses to that appeal came, I was struck by the unselfish generosity of seniors toward a project that will benefit others much more than themselves.

Later I met one of those senior donors at a social event and thanked him for his $1,000 contribution. He’s over 90 years old and not able to ride his bike anymore, but he immediately said in response that he gave to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine so that future generations could enjoy the trail.

This generosity of these trail supporters who give so that future generations can enjoy a greenway that links three towns reminds me of the response of seniors to our 1993 appeal to buy the Pumpkinvine corridor. We promised donors then that anyone who contributed $500 toward the purchase of the Pumpkinvine corridor would receive recognition at Abshire Park. Sixty seven households, individuals and organizations took the challenge, and their names are indeed on the sign in the plaza in Abshire Park. I know that at least 13 of those people have died and did not see or use the Pumpkinvine in any significant way. They were motivated by intergenerational thinking. 

I look at that plaque occasionally, and quietly thank those who showed their support for a project that many in the community said would be an unqualified disaster – unsafe, a magnet for crime and full of litter. Those same opponents also claimed we didn’t own the land. Yet these 67 people gave anyway. Disregarding the naysayers, they made a down payment on a potential greenway, and because of their willingness to take a chance that it would be successful, we have a greenway that is a community treasure.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Sun and shade

The temperature today was in the high 80s, so when my wife and I hit the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail around 2 p.m., it was felt oppressively hot. But as soon as we got on the Pumpkinvine at Abshire Park, we were in the shade of the trees that line the trail. It felt like someone had switched on the air conditioner. What a relief. As we road to County Road 33, we emerged from the trees into the two open areas that happen to be where the trail leaves the old railroad corridor, and again it was very hot.

I wonder if anyone has measured the difference in temperature between the sunny and shaded areas of the trail. Would the temperature be the same, and the difference just be how we feel out of the direct sunlight?

One consolation in these areas are the beautiful wildflowers that are currently in full bloom. The areas between County Road 127 and County Road 26 that were planted several years ago are showing their colors for the first time, and they are spectacular. finally mature.

The other interesting thing about these alternating hot and shaded areas is that the hot areas make me appreciate the shaded areas that much more. I slow down in them and speed up in the treeless areas. The rhythm makes the ride more interesting as well as more challenging.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Shorts are an ‘example of what every town or city wants’

On a Thurs­day in May 2011, Spencer Short accepted a job to help manage three bike shops in Michigan.
The very next day, the owner of Pumpkinvine Cyclery in Mid­dlebury offered to sell him that bike shop and they shook hands on the deal.

On the Sunday two days later, he and his wife, Brittany, found out she was pregnant with their first child.

“It was just like, whoa,” he said. “Within two weeks we were running the shop.”

Nearly five years later, they just moved the shop into a new, larger building at 420 N. Main St., Middlebury. Spencer, 29, and Brittany, 30, work together, along with employee Neil Yoder, to sell, rent and main­tain bikes.

Their proximity to Pumpkin­vine Nature Trail is a huge fac­tor in growing the business, in needing a larger space. “We wouldn’t be there without the trail,” he said.

There are other bike shops in Elkhart County, probably more than you think. Other places also offer great service and have
been doing so for years. What’s remarkable about the Shorts is how they’re living in and into a community in a way they never expected.

The couple went to Northridge. He graduated from Goshen College right before those fateful days in May. She was working as the manager of a dental office in South Bend, working 60 to 65 hours a week in addition to a longer-than-de­sired commute by car. It wasn’t very long until she quit her job and went to work in the shop.

In late 2010, as the Great Re­cession was abating, Brian Cole started the bike shop. Seven months later, he got his job back and found Short to take over. “I never thought I would own a business in Middlebury,” Short said. “We’re rooted.”

They’re buying a house. Their kids are ages 4 and 2. Rather than moving to Michigan, they’re operating a bike shop in their hometown.

“They’re a model example of what every town or city wants,” said Grace Bonewitz, executive director of the Middlebury Chamber of Commerce.

Towns need businesses that prevail through the decades. Middlebury has them, ranging from Cardinal Bus at more than 90 years and Das Dutchman Essenhaus at 45. Yet they also need new places to serve changing needs. “We’re going
to be growing. The question is going to be starting the busi­nesses,” Bonewitz said.

When the recent Vibrant Communities conversation happened in Middlebury, the main topic was trails, particu­larly ones that bikes or pedes­trians
use. Residents want the Ridge Run Trail to be completed. They want Middlebury and Bristol to be connected with one, Bonewitz said.

More bike trails would be good for bike business, but that’s not why Spencer helped build the Bonneyville Mill mountain bike trail. He just wanted a place to
ride his bike. He rode the trail in Warsaw, ate at the restaurants there, and wanted that experi­ence closer to home. “You can be part of a change in your commu­nity,” he said.

So he and others built a trail. It gets less traffic than the Pump­kinvine trail, and that may al­ways be. Aside from the thou­sands of local residents who pack the Pumpkinvine on sum­mer days, tourists are coming. They’re coming from Chicago, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. But they’re also coming from Australia, China and Spain.

“We never expected there would be as much tourists as
there is,” said Brittany.

On a Saturday, half the cus­tomers at Pumpkinvine Cyclery are from more than 30 miles away, she said. They rent them bikes and sell them accessories.

They praise the other young people in Middlebury opening businesses and making the town a place they’re excited to live, a place with more to do. They cite Austin Slabach at 41 Degrees North, a downtown restaurant featuring craft brew, locally raised food and a different vibe.

“There are younger couples wanting this community to thrive, so they’re doing what they can to make it better,” Brittany said.

Conversations are underway about how to make our com­munity better and what we want. Bike trails are high on the list. But it also takes the Shorts and others like them who take chances, invest and find ways to serve as they make a living.

“We like to see things im­prove.
We like to fix things that need fixed. We want to see things grow and improve,” Spencer said.

A few people like that and you have a vibrant community.

Marshall V. King is community edi­tor for The Elkhart Truth and food columnist for Flavor 574. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mk­ing@, and on Twit­ter, Instagram and Facebook.

Brittany and Spencer Short have operated Pumpkinvine Cyclery for nearly five years.

Elkhart Truth photo/Marshall V. King



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The variety on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Reading the book, A walk in the woods, by Bill Bryson, I was struck by the comment he made about his walk on the Appalachian Trail, the subject of that book. His comment was that for all the joy the trail gives to hikers, he finds the change of pace that results from leaving the mile-after-mile of wooded trail and going into a town very refreshing. That small change makes the trip more interesting and breaks up the monotony on the endless walking in the woods. He promotes the idea of variety  -- some wilderness and trees and also some civilization as in a motel or restaurant -- as the more enjoyable way to hike.

When I read that, I thought of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and the fact that it also has more variety than some trails I've been on, like the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio. It is a lovely trail, but it is pretty much the same mile after mile. The Pumpkinvine from Goshen to Middlebury in contrast, has wooded areas that give way to open fields, another wooded area and then another open space. I think that variety is one of its charming features.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Goshen forester enjoys sights, sounds, history of nature

[From Goshen News, March 12, 2016]
Early this week we were working on the portion of Pumpkinvine Trail that overlooks Butts Lake. The lake is really more of a large marshy pond, with fens of reedy grass throughout. I don’t know whether it actually has its own water source, or whether it is fed by run-off, particularly in the spring — in other words, a vernal marsh.
Regardless, it is large enough and holds plenty of water so that it is very attractive to birds — especially so at this time of year to ducks, Canada geese, sandhill cranes and redwing blackbirds.
In the lulls between work — filling the saw up with gas, shedding a coat or a sweatshirt, shifting equipment to the next site — I was often stopped by the sound of geese or blackbirds or cranes. I stood and listened and looked.
I’m not a birder, so I don’t know how to properly describe what I was seeing and hearing, but I do know that I love the keening trill of the redwing blackbird. There is hardly any sound that says more clearly “warm weather” to me.
I’m not so fond of goose honking, but the sound of them flying low overhead, the work of their breath, the wind in their wings is something that makes me pause. And the clacking croak of the cranes is one of my favorite sounds in all the natural world. It is a woody, prehistoric call which carries long distances, and almost invariably makes me stop whatever I’m doing when I hear it. Then I look around, scanning the sky, especially if the cry came from far, far above, until I see small black lines waving way overhead.
Whenever I put the saw down, those sounds came clear and loud all around, birds coming and going, letting each other know.
While I worked under the loud motor of the saw, cutting through sassafras and cherry and occasional hawthorn and maple, I thought about those birds, and the water and the trees that I was working among, and the lay of the land that shapes all of these things.
The Pumpkinvine railroad bed itself was built by humans, of course, altering the contour of the land. Raise it here with soil and stone, lower it there with shovel and machine. It slithers across the land’s natural rise and fall.
I found myself wondering what Butts Lake was like before the railroad. Was there more water, was it larger? What about before farming? There are lots of similar kettle lake remnants all around us, belying our more recent industrial-agriculture past of tiling and draining, and the much deeper history of slow glacial retreat thousands of years ago.
I couldn’t help noticing the community of trees that line the Pumpkinvine, and which spill, from time to time, into larger open woodlots. As I mentioned, there is lots of sassafras and cherry, the former an especially good pioneer species, which can be nearly invasive. Some of the cherry are pretty large. But the really big trees out here are oaks. Mostly northern red oak and white, I think. I didn’t go tromping onto private property (and I don’t advise anyone else to, either) for a closer look, but judging by the shape and structure, the bark patterns and the sheer size of these trees, I’m pretty sure that’s what they are. There very well may be an occasional bur oak, swamp white oak, pin oak and even possibly a chinkapin oak. Some of them, most notably the whites, have been here for at least 100 years, a few pushing 25 to 50 years beyond that. Beneath them, the leaf litter is thick and the forest floor growth is thin, inhibited by the heavy summer shade.
Though these linear woodlands contain no trees that could be considered pre-settlement, and though they occupy disturbed, fringe ground — attested by the occasional piles of field stone which they’ve grown up around — nevertheless their ancestry is extremely old and specific to this place.
The same is true of the cranes and the other birds that are arriving and passing through at this moment.
The same is true, including in a poetic sense, of the Butts Lake basin, which has held water and sustained plants and animals for who knows how long.
Though I was working hard, and making an awful racket with the saw, I came away from my task feeling relaxed. Muscles aching and back stiff, but satisfied and clear-minded. I looked around at the early-spring world: the land and its creatures, doing what they need to, what they ought to, what they know to. It is deeply comforting to be part of this rhythm.
Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley is Goshen’s urban forester. He can be reached at aaronkingsley@maplenet. net or at 537-0986.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pumpkinvine spur to Krider Nursery in Middlebury

I just ran across this Pumpkinvine-related photo in a video on the Middlebury town website.  The video shows what a vital part of the Middlebury economy the Krider Nursery was and how important the Pumpkinvine railroad was for shipping nursery stock for the business.  Rex Krider: Introduction to Krider Nurseries and Krider Garden

The legend on the bottom left of the photo identifies various part of the nursery. The road going across the photo is County Road 8. The Pumpkinvine railroad curves across the right side and you can see Krider World's Fair Garden to its left.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Talking points for Vibrant Community Conversations

The Vibrant Community Conversations this week are at the following times and places:

  • Monday, Feb. 22, 10 a.m. to noon -- 4-H Elkhart County Fairgrounds, Martin Room, 17746 CR 34, Goshen
  • Tuesday, Feb. 23, 5-7 p.m. -- Pinewood Elementary School, 3420 E. Bristol St., Elkhart
  • Tuesday, Feb. 23, 7-9 p.m. -- Northwood High School, 21-1 N. Main St., Nappanee
  • Wednesday, Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m. -- Goshen High School Media Center
  • Thursday, Feb. 25, 6-8 p.m. -- Middlebury Town Hall, 418 N. Main St., Middlebury
I hope that many of those who enjoy riding and walking the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail will join these discussions and comment on ways that trails contribute to the quality of life in our area. Here are the talking points I'm going to make:

  1. I think the trails we have now -- Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Winona Trail, Mill Race Trail, MapleHeart and Maple City Greenway -- have been a great benefit to our community by providing opportunities for biking, walking, jogging, bird watching and strolling for people of all ages.
  2. As good as the trail system is, I'd like to see some improvements.
    1. A tunnel under Kercher Road on the Winona Trail 
    2. Better signage and marked route between the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and the Mill Race Trail.
    3. Extent the Winona Trail south to Baintertown where it could connect to the River Preserve Park. Extending it to Warsaw would be ideal.
    4. Put asphalt on the 1.75 miles of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail between CR 28 and SR 4. This section of trail is currently crushed limestone that becomes soft and rutted in damp weather, making it difficult to ride.
    5. On the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, I'd like to see:
      1. Close the gap in the trail between CR 33 and CR 35
      2. More parking areas
      3. Drinking fountains
      4. Rest areas with shelters 
      5. More benches

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jim Brotherson was critical to the creation of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Two months ago, our community lost a remarkable cycling advocate, James R. Brotherson, a lawyer and friend who died far too young at the age of 63. His obituary mentioned that he was legal counsel to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine, and I’d like to expand on how important that was. Simply put, without the skills of the legal team he put together, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail might not exist today.
Jim Byron, Jim Brotherson and Doug Mulvaney in 1999.
They were the legal team that helped  the Friends
 of the Pumpkinvine establish title to the Pumpkinvine corridor.

I met Jim on March 11, 1993 when the Friends of the Pumpkinvine held an informational meeting at the Goshen Public Library to explain our proposal to convert the abandoned Pumpkinvine railroad corridor into a linear park. We were still in the early stages of putting together an organization and raising money to purchase the Pumpkinvine corridor, and these meeting were one way for us to get names for our mailing list. Somehow Jim learned about that meeting and showed up to listen.

At that point, early 1993, our group had had some success gaining support for the proposed trail from the boards and staff of Goshen Park and Recreation Department and Elkhart County Parks, but we (and the proposed trail) were routinely attacked in letters to the editor as a group of bicycle fanatics who were promoting a dangerous and costly trail. Moreover, landowners along the Pumpkinvine corridor claimed that they owned it because it had reverted to them when Penn Central abandoned the line in 1982.

So we knew that we would need legal help to prove our ownership after we bought the corridor, but we also knew that it would take all the funds we had (and then some) to buy the Pumpkinvine corridor. Besides, people told us that no law firm in Goshen would take our case because the proposed Pumpkinvine Nature Trail was too controversial.

Into that worrisome situation – no money to pay for an attorney and no local law firm offering to help – walked Jim Brotherson. He came up to me after that March 11 public meeting and said, “If you need help defending your title, let me know. I’d like to represent your group, and I’ll do it pro bono,” i.e., at no cost. I don’t remember if we hired Jim that night or took some time to think it over – after all none of us knew if he was a competent lawyer – but it wasn’t long before we decided to ask for his help, and he took an active role in the negotiations with Penn Central that summer and fall to purchase the corridor, which happened on Dec. 22,1993.

That chance encounter began a two-decade long association in which he worked tirelessly on behalf of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine. First, just before the purchase from Penn Central, he recruited Jim Byron and Chuck Grodnik from another Elkhart law firm to help with the closing. Then in January 1994, they filed a lawsuit on 17 adjacent landowners between SR 4 and CR 28 that established our ownership of the that 1.75 miles. That section later showcased the trail’s potential to the community and made possible a change in public attitudes and made extending the trail to Shipshewana possible.

After the initial lawsuit, in July 1995 he and Jim Byron then took on the task of defending our title against over 100 adjacent landowners between U.S. 20 to CR 850W in LaGrange County. In all, Brotherson, Byron and Doug Mulvaney (another lawyer added to the team) were our council for eight lawsuits stretching over 17 years. Although we were able to pay for their work after the first four years, I never knew how they justified those many hours of free legal services to the partners in their firms; I suspected they didn’t tell all that they did.

While their value to us was most obvious in their ability to write convincing legal briefs, they were just as valuable in giving us good advice. Their wise counsel redefined for me what it means to be a good attorney.

In recent years, after his law firm moved to South Bend, I didn’t have much contact with Jim, but I would occasionally see him on Saturday mornings shopping at Goshen’s Farmer’s Market, and I would unceremoniously embarrass him with a bear hug, as a handshake was far too passive an expression of thanks for what he had given us.

I’m extremely happy that I organized a lawyers’ bike ride with Brotherson, Byron and Grodnick on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail between Middlebury and Shipshewana several years ago. I wanted them to see the wonderful trail they had helped create and reminisce about how it happened 20 years ago because of them. Jim was impressed and far too humble about what he’d contributed.

The last email I had from Jim was on Feb. 24, 2015 when he was already quite ill, though I didn’t know it at the time. I had sent him and Jim Byron a note with a link to an article on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website ranking the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail as the number one trail in Indiana.  I simply said that the ranking was, “The results of your great work for the Pumpkinvine.”  He responded: “Thanks, John. That was a nice series of articles, and it’s enormously comforting to think we left a positive mark on our county. It was always a privilege to work with you and the dedicated team.”

A positive mark, indeed. When I see the thousands of people enjoying the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, how it has raised the awareness of cycling in our community and has expanded with connections to the MapleHeart Trail to Elkhart and through spurs to the Elkhart County Fairground, I’d say the mark he left was indelible. 

Friday, February 12, 2016