Signs of the Times President’s talk– April 28, 2015 — Greencroft Community Center

friendsPumpkinvine News

It is very gratifying to see a room filled with trail advocates, people interested in moving the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail toward completion or at least learning more about this greenway. Whatever your reason for coming tonight, I thank you for putting this event on your schedule. I hope that you go home with renewed enthusiasm for the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and what it means to this community.

You have already met the current Friends of the Pumpkinvine board. Before I begin my presentation, I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize, Rhonda Yoder, who left the board this year after serving 10 years, including nine as treasurer. Rhonda, would you come up please?
The Friends of the Pumpkinvine board wants to publically thank you for the 10 years that you gave to the Friends and to this community, for the countless spreadsheets, financial reports, IRS 990 forms, insurance payments, bike ride tabulations and all the financial details that made our organization run smoothly. Your work helped to make us a better organization and by extension, our community a more livable and interesting place to live. In appreciation, we want to give you this plaque, and thank you for your dedication and commitment.
I speak tonight as a representative of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine board. We are the unelected, citizen advocates who promoted the creation of this linear park and continue to nurture its development through our website, newsletter, bike ride and we offer occasional suggestions for improvements, like water fountain here or a kiosk there.
However, the trail’s day-to-day worker bees (who make sure the Pumpkinvine is humming along as it should) are from the four agencies that manage the Pumpkinvine. We meet monthly as a Pumpkinvine Advisory Committee to discuss any issue related to the trail, like the type of signs, plowing or now plowing the trail, and what electric-powered or gas-powered vehicles may use the trail. Not all are here tonight, but I’d like introduce you to them nonetheless.
Mark Salee and Tom Enright represent Middlebury; Mike Sutter and Lynn Bontrager represent Shipshewana; Diane Madison, Ronda DeCaire, and Nick Steele represent Elkhart County Parks; Sheri Howland and Tanya Heyden represent Goshen; Bob Carrico and I represent the Friends of the Pumpkinvine.
Bernie Cunningham, who became superintendent of Elkhart County Parks after the group picture was taken last fall, also attends these meetings occasionally.
This group is not an intergovernmental agency in the legal sense, but it functions in many of the ways such an agency would function, if government agencies functioned like they are supposed to. When you have the opportunity, please thank these folks for the work they do to manage and maintain the Pumpkinvine.
I’ve called my remarks this evening, “Signs of the Times.” These are signs that indicate where the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail is, how people regard it, and where I think it is headed.
I can illustrate that theme with three brief stories. Several months ago I was poking around on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website and saw a headline announcing that they had ranked the Top 10 Trail in Indiana. Well, naturally I wanted to see where the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail ranked, and yet I was apprehensive. I wanted it to be in the top 10 and maybe even the top five, but given the well-known trails like the Monon in Indianapolis and the Cardinal Greenway in Muncie, The Nickle Plate in Rochester, and Prairie Dunelands in Portage  — all wonderful greenways that I’ve seen, I was not hopeful the Pumpkinvine would make the list.
All that went through my mind as I paused before clicking on the link to the full story. Then I clicked the link, and it said that Rails-to-Trail Conservancy ranked the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail number one trail in Indiana, with this brief description.
“Featured as the November Trail of the Month, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail steals the show in Indiana. If you want to experience genuine Midwestern Americana, this is it. Pastoral scenes of Amish life and fields of gold line the path. A must-visit trail!”
Now, I know from correspondence with the person who made the ranking that this ranking is no highly scientific measurement, but still in some informal matrix of values from a cross section of trail users the Pumpkinvine rank first in the state. I was amazed and pleased at the same time.
A few weeks later, on March 21, I received an email from George C. from Lexington, Mich. I want to read the whole email.
I recently read the Rails-to-Trails article about your trail and would love to visit and ride.
My wife and I live in south east Michigan in an area known to locals as the “thumb.” We enjoy traveling to, and staying at, places close to bike trails and make it a point to do so a few times each season.
Doing some snooping today, it looks like the Goshen airport is about 3 miles from the Hampton Inn along Lincolnway Road  . . .and maybe about the same distance to the trail. If we flew into Goshen, would Lincolnway be safe to ride into town?
I wrote back and suggested a safer route than U.S. 33, but as I answered that email, my mind was spinning as I tried to get my head around the fact that someone thought enough of our local trail to fly a private plane to see it. It’s another sign of the trail’s status. I’m guessing that not even our creative marketing friends, Denise Hernandez and Jackie Hughes with the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, have thought about promoting the Pumpkinvine as a place to fly to.
Then about two weeks ago, I was taking some pictures of the construction on the Middlebury DQ when a 40-something man came up to me and started asking me questions about my bike, how many gears, what was its size, was it aluminum? Things like that. I answered his questions and then, without my prompting, he said: “Isn’t this a fantastic trail?” I wasn’t wearing any Pumpkinvine clothes that linked me to the trail. He then launched into a glowing description of the Pumpkinvine and what a delight it was to ride it with his family. I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember his evangelistic fervor, as if he needed to share his discovery with me in case I wasn’t familiar with it. He went on to say that it was the best trail of its kind near his family, and that they frequently make the 24-mile drive from Three Rivers, Mich., to ride the Pumpkinvine.
The only negative thing he had to say was: “I don’t feel very safe on the section that’s on the road,” and he pointed south toward CR 35. At that point, whipped out my Friends of the Pumpkinvine business card and told him our non-profit Friends group was working right this minute to close that gap, and that if he went to our website, he could help make that happen.  
What does these stories tell us? What conditions do they suggest?
·        The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, our modest, not that long, not that fancy, and still unfinished trail, has become a destination – something that people will drive to and some will even fly to in order to ride. And we know that they buy food and lodging, gas and biking, walking or running equipment and that helps our local economy. It’s new money.
·        But, the corollary to being a destination is that the more families the Pumpkinvine attracts, the more urgent it becomes that we finish the trail by closing the gaps that put families on the county roads.
What does that clientele look like? It look like this group, which happens to be my wife and two grandchildren. An adults who does not feel safe on the narrow county roads and children under 10. For them the car-free trail is a joy because it is safe. , six and four, and June is a grandmother towing the four year old. We were enjoying an April ride between CR 35 and CR 27 two years ago. They fit that profile.  
Before discussing this gap, I want to say that we as a Friends board are very aware that there is a gap in the Pumpkinvine from 850 W to downtown Shipshewana and many people would like to see it closed, also. There’s no parking where the trail stops, and that’s a problem, but there is a relatively safe alternative route people can use. With limited time and resources, our priority has been the CR 33 to CR 35 gap.
For strategic reasons, we divide this 1.5 mile as a gap between County Road 33 and County Road 35 into two parts, a northern and a southern half, divided by County Road 20
The strategy in these two sections is different because Friends of the Pumpkinvine own most of the old railroad corridor on the north half, but we own almost nothing on the southern half. We own the red dotted line. We don’t own the yellow. In our legal system, you can’t build on someone else’s land. In both the north and south parts of the gap, the railroad sold the corridor to adjacent landowners before our Friends group formed. Currently trail users bypass this section on three country roads – a distance of 1.7 miles.
We chose to concentrate on the south half of the gap because we knew negotiations would take longer and because earlier contacts with the relevant party in the northern half were not productive.  
At our annual dinner last year, I reported that we’ve had very positive discussions with the landowners in this section. In our March newsletter, we reported that we had agreed on a tentative route for the trail through this section. Here it is. And here’s a view looking south.
First it goes northeast 500 feet on the corridor. Then there’s a 750 foot bubble into the woods, through a wetlands, back on the corridor for 700 feet, then north 900 feet along south fork of Pine Creek (all that land belongs to one family), turn the corner, and parallel CR 20 for about 1300 feet. Total length about .8 of a mile.
Let’s pause for a moment and let these images sink in. Three Amish families, for whom separation from the world is a prime theological and practical belief, have said that it’s fine with them if 50,000 people a year ride through their property. By agreeing to this route, they are saying that they are willing to sacrifice some of their land and privacy for the good that extending the Pumpkinvine off road will have for the their community and the larger community, an accommodation that they would not have to make. They see value in the trail for everyone.
To put this attitude in perspective, let me tell you about a recently conversation I had with Jim Wellington, the person who championed Fidler Pond Park here in Goshen. He said that the neighbors to that proposed park were violently opposed to its creation. They were fearful of stranger and giving up their privacy. My own community of Spring Brooke is balking at extending the Fidler Pond trail on the edge of our property to College Ave. So, I applaud these three families for allowing the Pumpkinvine to be extended through their land.
Where is the process at this point? Here are the important points.
1.     We have built trust with landowners through many meetings, walks and discussions. We would not be applying grant to build the trail if we were worried about getting the land.
2.     We have an estimate of the cost for purchase and development:  $848,000.
3.     The process of purchase is somewhat complicated by the fact that the route goes off the old railroad corridor, through wetlands and along a creek – that requires surveys and legal descriptions.
4.     Building the trail will be is more complicated because the route goes off the old railroad corridor, through wetlands and along a creek – both of these conditions require special permits to build.
5.     All of these negotiations move on Amish time, that is to say, slowly.  
Now the good news: We have the potential to close the gap.
1.     Elkhart County Community Foundation has given$300,000 matching grant to buy and build the trail.
2.     Friends will pay for engineering from funds we already have.
3.     Elkhart County Parks has applied for $200,000 grant from Indiana Department of Natural Resources for development and the park board has pledged $75,000 toward the project.
4.     Friends of the Pumpkinvine need to raise at least $135,000 to receive the match to build the trail. If Elkhart County Parks does not receive the $200,000 grant, it will be much more. In a normal year, we raise about $35,000 above expenses or $70,000 in two years. That leaves $65,000 additional to raise.
5.     Construction:  2016 or 2017.

If our 300 supporting households were to increase their giving in the next two years, we would be close to having enough to buy and build the trail. In other words, if you are a member at the $30 level, consider going to $60. If you are at $60, consider going to $100, and so on. If you aren’t a member, consider joining or having your business be a corporate sponsor.
I’m nervous in giving you these figures. In doing so I’m trying to thread the needle between making the amount seem so large that it discourages people from giving and making it seem so small that it will seem easy, which also discourages people from giving. Resist those options: raising $135,000 won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.
In conclusion, let me remind you of these signs of the times:
1.     The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail has become a destination that attracts families, and we want them to have a safe, enjoyable experience on the trail by closing this gap.
2.     Three families, seeing the value of the trail for transportation to work and school and for family outings, have generously offered to sell their land so that we can close the southern part of the gap.
3.     The purchase and construction will cost $834,000.
4.     The Friends of the Pumpkinvine need to raise $135,000 to complete the match to the grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation.
5.     Construction:  2016 or 2017.
On your table is a membership brochure. You can use it to join as a member or corporate sponsor or renew an existing membership. Danny Graber will talk about how you can help with the bike ride.
Our goal is to make the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail that is recognized around the Midwest as an excellent linear park and make it even better. I invite you to join us in meeting the financial challenge to close the gap that will make that goal a reality.