“I see a light at the end of the tunnel” — State of the trail

friendsPumpkinvine News

Friends of the Pumpkinvine annual dinner
Greencroft Senior Center
April 26, 2011
John Yoder, president
It’s a pleasure to see so many supporters and potential supporters of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine and the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. Thank you for coming.
Tonight my assignment is to briefly review the state of the trail and the Friends organization. My title (inspired by the tunnel under US 20) is: “I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Tunnel under U.S. 20
When we use that phrase, “light at the end of the tunnel,” we usually mean that we’re moving to a more satisfying phase of a project, like saying, “We finished putting the shingles on the roof, the carpet is laid; the electrical wiring is finished:  I see light at the end of the tunnel – the day we can all move into our new house.”
Tonight I see lights like that in three area:
·         Trail construction
·         Legal issues
·         The future of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine as an organization
First: Trail construction                                
To say that this trail has been slow to materialize is an understatement. Goshen opened 1.75 miles in 2000, Middlebury added .6 miles in 2005. The pace picked up in 2008: and Elkhart County Parks built .5 miles in 2008 and 2.9 miles in 2009, and a small section and tunnel in 2010 for a total of five plus miles in 16 years. That pace tries the patience of the most loyal trail advocates. How grateful we are that you have continued to be supporters all those years.
But the light I see reflects the fact that 2011 will be a huge year for construction. And 2012 will see another mile finished.
Here are a few images from 2010 to remind you of what your support has helped accomplish.  The tunnel under U.S. 20
A parking area at the corner of County Road 37 and County Road 22, and an extension of the trail west of CR 37, where the neighborhood kids didn’t seem to mind that that the segment was only a quarter mile long and didn’t connect to anything;

Ground breaking: Roger Yoder, 
Larry Neff, Norm Kauffmann, 
John Yoder, Bob Carrico, Jim Smith, 
Mike Bontreger, Chet Peachey, 
Mike Puro 
In September 2010, we had a ground breaking for the six miles from Middlebury to Shipshewana, construction has begun, and most of that section will be done this summer. That addition doubles the length of the trail.
Then the completion of US 20 to Wayne St. in Middlebury is scheduled for 2012.
Of the land that we own and could be developed, that leaves only a small section between CR 35 and CR 37 to be funded. So completion of primary construction is in sight by fall 2012.
Yes, there are issues to resolve. Elkhart County Parks has as yet not secured funding for the last 500 feet of trail east of the DQ in Middlebury and has not resolve the crossing SR 13. And the trail will still be on county roads for 1.7 miles between County Road 33 and County Road 35, but trail construction is at a stage where we can definitely see light at the end of the tunnel.
The second area where I see light at the end of tunnel is with respect to legal issues
We have been defending our title to the Pumpkinvine corridor since 1994 overcoming legal impediments through eight mediations and/or law suits. As I speak, one case continues. But, tonight I have good news: I can see the promised land of no more law suits.
The end is in sight. On April 1, 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the ruling of Judge Steven Bowers of Elkhart Superior Court, issued Aug. 2, 2010, that the Friends were the owner of disputed land between CR 35 and CR 37. However, since the defendant has 30 days to appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, we have not announced this decision publically. That deadline is May 1, so in six days we will know if there is an appeal.  Here is the location of the disputed section. Here’s what the corridor looks like at ground level.  [Note: no appeal was filed.]
 This legal “tunnel of frustration” has two dimensions: 1) when there is a cloud on the ownership of the corridor, it is impossible to get state or federal funding for development; they don’t want to gamble tax-payers money on land in dispute; 2) the legal process of proving our ownership is costly. We love our lawyers, but really, do we need to finance the college education for all their kids?  These are funds that we could have applied to building the trail. We’ve now spend twice as much in legal fees as we spent to buy the corridor in the first place. Even through we’ve won every legal challenge to our ownership or settled them through mediation, it’s been a huge waste of time and money.
But I believe the end of our ownership disputes is near. We don’t know of any legal challenges on the horizon. That’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
Before moving on to my third point, I’d like to introduce the board of directors of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine, the group that has had the fortitude and stamina to nurture this greenway through numerous tunnels of frustration and celebrations. Please stand as I call your name. Mike Bontreger, Robert Carrico, Quinn Holdeman, Jr., Cathy Miller, Larry Neff, Chet Peachey, Jim Smith, Bud Wulliman, Rhonda Yoder
The group you just saw is critical to the third light I see at the end of the tunnel, because that light has to do with defining what role Friends of the Pumpkinvine will have, if any, once we’ve given all the land away. Our work the past 20 years has been a little bit like giving birth to and nurturing this wonderful linear park — and then piece by piece giving it up for adoption to Goshen Parks, Elkhart County Parks, Middlebury and Shipshewana. We’re thrilled that the local agencies are willing to accept the donation, given their limited resources. They’ve been wonderful stewards of the gift.
One role I foresee is to encourage volunteers. For example, Elkhart County Park Dept. has a volunteer position called trail host that I participate in. Every time I ride the Pumpkinvine, I record the ride in a monthly log that I send to Ronda DeCaire. If I see something that needs immediate attention, like a washout or a fallen tree, I send an email to Ronda telling her what I’ve seen and where so that her staff can fix it. Park department staff also monitor the trail daily, but more eyes are always needed.
Bob Carrico clearing trail after
June 17 storm
Another possibility is to become a volunteer trail steward – a role we have had for years. Last year we helped build fence at CR 127. And after the June 17 storm, when there were dozens of trees down on the trail, Bob Carrico, Bud Wulliman and I got chainsaws and started to work, with the park staff, to clear the trees. Four days later the trail was clear.
Interestingly, just because there were 30 plus trees blocking the trail, it made no difference. People refused to accept the fact that it was virtually unpassible.

The most provocative possibility I see for the Friends comes from a group we have called the Pumpkinvine Advisory Committee (PAC). This group includes the heads of the park departments from Goshen and Elkhart County, park staff from all four cities and the town managers from Middlebury and Shipshewana, as well as representatives from our board. We have begun meeting to develop a strategy to coordinate management of the Pumpkinvine.
PAC. Front (from left):  Sheri Howland, superintendent, Goshen Parks; Tanya Heyde, recreation supervisor, Goshen Parks; Mark Salee, Middlebury town manager, Dave Palenchar, building and grounds superintendent, town of Shipshewana. Back: Ronda DeCaire, superintendent of operations, Goshen Parks; Tom Enright, park and recreation manager, Middlebury Parks; Bob Carrico, trail operations manager, Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Inc.; Larry Neff, director, Elkhart County Parks; John Yoder, president, Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Inc.
Missing  the day of the picture were:  Sheryl Kelly, town manager, Shipshewana; Rich Kindel, director of maintenance, Goshen Parks;  Steve Gangloff, area manager, Elkhart County Parks; and John McKee, chair, Middlebury Park board.

I must say that given the potential for turf wars in a group representing the Friends and four diverse governmental units, the spirit of cooperation in these meets so far has been outstanding. To me, that’s the way government should work. The dynamics are completely the opposite of the nonfunctioning government satirized in of that old country song: “The oil is all in Texas, but the dip sticks are in D.C.”  There are no dipsticks in this group.
As I sit in these meetings, I hear our local agencies talking enthusiastically about the potential of the trail for their community: 
·         To create  jobs in retail and tourism businesses:
v  Along the Pumpkinvine a shop that caters to tourists
v  Pumpkinvine Cyclery a new local bike shop
·       To provide off-road transportation:  Workers can use the trail for transportation to get to Jayco, Syndicate, Sunnybrooke RV, Coachman. Children can use it to get to Pumpkinvine Amish School on CR 35 and Plain View Amish School on CR 43, oldest in this area (1948).
·       For recreation with its inherent health benefits to combat obesity and type II diabetes through biking, walking and jogging, rollerblading, and cross country skiing.
·       To enhance our appreciation for wildflowers, small animals, trees and wetlands.
I also hear this group say, “We need help to promote and manage trail activities. We don’t have the staff to do that. Don’t abandon us now.”
What exactly is this group proposing for the future of trail management? Working out those details is our primary agenda for the next year. There are two major options:
·         The Friends could become consultants to the government units on trail issues. Financially, the Friends could help fund trail operations or equipment through grants to the four trail operators.
·         The second possibility is that the four government agencies contract with the Friends to coordinate volunteers, marketing and promotion of the trail, and provide grants for projects.
Either option is workable, IF past support for the Friends continues into the future.
That’s the big question: Will donors who helped preserve the corridor support the Friends of the Pumpkinvine in the role of assisting the park department with promotion and grants? Will trail advocates continue what in essence is a voluntary, self-imposed tax to support trail maintenance, for example, which is not nearly as glamorous as building the trail?  Let’s look at some figures and trends that give us a clue about the future.
Our year-to-year finances of the Friend of the Pumpkinvine continue to be strong.
·         Memberships and donations have remained steady the past six years.
·         The bike ride continues to bring in between $6,000 and $10,000 a year. But there’s new competition, too. The popularity of rides comes and goes. Nothing is certain.
·         Corporate sponsorships have declined since the recession hit.
Obviously, even though the trend is positive, we can’t predict the future level of support from members, corporate donors and the bike ride, our three largest sources of income.
However, if we maintained the same level of support from the bike ride, supporters and corporate sponsors as we’ve had in last six years, and did not have to pay legal fees, we’d easily have enough income to support a part-time staff position to offer the park departments for a variety of tasks.
Our challenge as a Friends board is to imagine our role in this new environment – where construction is complete, there are no more law suits and the local agencies are asking for help to manage certain aspects of the trail. Can we move from building trail to sustaining the trail?
It is also our challenge to adapt to new circumstances in a way that continues to connect with supporters like you. The brochure on your tables tells you how you can join the Friends of the Pumpkinvine and be part of the next phase of our journey.
Several weeks ago I attended a meeting of non-profit organizations in Indianapolis to learn what I could about strengthening our board of directors. One phrase from that conference challenged me more than any other. The idea, from Jim McClelland, head of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, was this:  “Organizations that don’t adapt to changes in environment become ineffective, irrelevant or extinct.”
As we imagine the future, we hope that you will join us in this new phase of the trail and the Friends’ organization where together we help maintain a wonderful, beautiful, health-inducing greenway that will enhance our community for generations to come. Thank you for your attention.