In May 2018, I attended the Mid-America Trails and Greenway Conference in Columbus, Ohio and went to a workshop titled “Building and Maintaining Sustainable Organizations” led by the first onsultant the Friends of the Pumpkinvine ever had, Rory Robinson, from the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program in Cleveland, Ohio. One of the questions discussed in the workshop was, “How do trail groups remain viable for the long term and retain new younger members to continue to support the management and promotion of constructed trails?” That question brought forward in my thinking thoughts of retirement that I’d been considering for some time, and in January at our annual retreat, I told our board that 2019 would be my last year as president of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Inc.
While there is no perfect time to retire, I think January 2020 makes sense for me and the Friends organization. I would love to remain on the board until we close the three gaps in the trail, but we are close enough that I’m convinced they will be done soon. The gap in the trail between County Road 33 and County Road 20 will be completed in the next few months, the gap between County Road 20 and County Road 35 is in the final stages of negotiation, and the town of Shipshewana is working on closing the gap between County Road 850W and downtown.
As for the board, one way to remain a viable organization for the long term is to welcome new ideas, and those ideas frequently come from new board members and new leadership. That’s what I mean by a transition being an opportunity. So, taking that assumption to heart, our board has made a conscious effort in the past five years to recruit younger members. And on a regular basis, we’ve been asking ourselves: as the construction of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail comes to a conclusion, what direction will the Friends of the Pumpkinvine take?
Most critical for this transition is the fact that our board of directors includes many capable people who have a vision for building and maintaining the trail. And the board has a year to work on a plan for succession, a process they have already begun.
I look back on the past 30 years with great satisfaction at having been part of helping create the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. It’s been a wonderful experience to see the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail grow, phase by phase, between Goshen and Shipshewana, and then to see spurs branch off from it, e.g., the Abshire Trail, the Monroe St. Trail and the Ridge Run Trail. Through some engineering magic, it connected to Elkhart via the MapleHeart Trail.
I cherish the board members, supporters, trail users and friends who have encouraged us the past 30 years. In particular, I’m grateful for the support of my wife, June, and daughter, Mandy, who saw value in the trail for the community and made space for me to advocate for it. I’ll still be around to consult with the board as needed, but the time has come to let others take the reins. This change is an opportunity for the Friends of the Pumpkinvine to move in new directions. I look forward to seeing what the future will bring for the trails of our area.