When I look back at the history of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, one feature that permeates that history is the positive partnership between the Friends of the Pumpkinvine and the four local public agencies (LPAs) that built and manage the trail now – Goshen Park and Recreation, Elkhart County Parks, Middlebury Parks and the Town of Shipshewana. They have been indispensable to the Pumpkinvine’s creation and success because they had the skills the Friends of the Pumpkinvine volunteers lacked.
The volunteers, who have made up the Friends of the Pumpkinvine board of directors since the early ‘90s had skills in writing, photography, public relations and fundraising, but none of us had a clue about how to build or run a park. In other words, we needed expertise beyond our set of skills.
Because of our skill deficit, we knew that we would need the help of the local public agencies where the abandoned Pumpkinvine corridor was located to make it into a linear park. At the beginning, we were primarily in contact with Goshen’s park director, Art Bleau and Elkhart County Parks director, Dan Seltenright, and we were thrilled to discover that both were open to the idea of turning the Pumpkinvine corridor into a linear park because that idea was already in their master plans.
But lines on maps and words on paper are hollow without follow through. The rails-to-trails idea for the Pumpkinvine corridor moved forward because Bleu and Seltenright saw its potential for success by working with the Friends of the Pumpkinvine. That was the beginning of a partnership between the Friends of the Pumpkinvine and the LPA leadership that has lasted over 25 years. When Rich Faye and Sheri Howland succeeded Bleau and Larry Neff and Diane Madison succeeded Seltenright, the collaboration continued. Roger Krider, Middlebury town manager, joined as a partner, as did his successors Marcel Coulomb, Lowell Miller and Mark Salee. In Shipshewana, former Friends of the Pumpkinvine board member, Norm Kauffmann, orchestrated their buy in to the rails-to-trails concept, as did his successors Dave Swartley, Bill Boyer, Mike Puro, Sheryl Kelly and Mike Sutter.
All these changes in leadership for the managing agencies were staggered, assuring continuity in the management of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. Yet in the past eight months, we had seen the departure of Madison, Salee and Howland, and, I learned as I was writing this column in mid-February, that Mike Sutter has announced that he is retiring in June 2017. So, within the space of one year we will have new leadership in all four LPAs that manage the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.
Will so much change in the leadership of these LPAs be positive or negative for the Pumpkinvine? If the past in any indicator of the future, I’m optimistic the new leaders (see page 4) will continue the tradition of being excellent stewards of the Pumpkinvine. And I’m grateful for the care and vision the departing leaders – Madison, Salee, Howland and Sutter -- have shown the trail. They have been outstanding trail managers, advocates and partners. -- John Yoder