Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

Black-Eyed Susan along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

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:   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.