Elkhart County experience record floods from the Elkhart River and other bodies of water in February, but the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail excaped major damage. Between County Road 35 and County Road 37 there is a low spot that was covered for a distance of over 150 feet, but in a few days, that water receded. That’s at least the second time that area has been under water.
However, when compared to the damage done to the Abshire Trail and the trail around Fidler Pond, that area of standing water was an inconvenience, not a disaster. As I rode the Pumpkinvine recently, I was thankful that the railroad engineers of 1890s who built the Pumpkinvine had the wisdom to elevate the railroad bed so that it would not be flooded. The section of the Pumpkinvine pictured here is one part of the trail that is not on the old railroad corridor.
Every time a new physically printed Friends of the Pumpkinvine newsletter comes out, I ask myself if printing a hard copy of a newsletter is still a good idea? It is expensive to design, print and mail, and I see that other trail groups send out electronic newsletters. I know of only one other trail in Indiana that prints a newsletter — the B&O Trail in Brownsburg, Ind.
Then today something happened that underscored the difference between print and electroic newsletters. I wrote a letter to the new president of Goshen College, Rebecca Stoltzfus, and her husband, Kevin Miller, inviting them to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine annual dinner April 24. Since I did not know their address and I didn’t want to send a letter to both of them to the college, I decided to drop it off in person at their house, a location I knew. I thought it would be helpful to put a newsletter and brochure with the letter, also. I wrote the letter, picked up the extra newsletters at the Goshen College printing office and then drove to their house. Kevin was home, and I gave him the materials and talked with him briefly about the dinner and the Pumpkinvine, which he has not seen. However, I discovered that his daughter is dating someone who works at Pumpkinvine Cyclery, and he naturally had heard about the trail, so we had a connection of sorts
How much better it was for me to be able to give him a printed brochure and newsletter, rather than refer him to a website with basically the same information? (I had links to our website in the letter, also.) I think it made for a much more cordual and helpful exchange, compared to telling him to go to a website, which I would have needed to do without a brochure and newsletter in hand.
So, I’m still a proponent of a physical newsletter that I can hand to people. I’ll bring the extra copies of the last three newsletters to the annual dinner, with the hope that new supporters will pick them up.
From January to April, the crushed-limestone section of the PV from SR 4 to CR 28 is soft and as a result, becomes quite rutted from the bikes that ride the trail. Riding on it when it is this moist put a coat of dust on your bike frame, chain, derailleur, wheels, and usually your legs as well. And the ruts you create make it more difficult for subsequent riders to ride.
As as result, many of us avoid that section of the trail, and for those of us in Goshen, it means we just avoid riding on the PNT altogether because the cleanup involved is a hassle.
I suspect that walkers and runners also experience some of the same frustrations as the biker. Their shoes would become caked with dirt.
Land ownership disputes dominated development of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in early stages of the project. Settlements with neighbors sometimes involved trading parts of the railroad corridor for strips of land around the perimeters of farm fields. Friends hired Blake Doriot to conduct an especially difficult land survey of the railroad corridor between County Roads 127 and 26 in Elkhart County. Legal descriptions were needed to prepare deeds for the land exchanges.
The path of the Pumpkin Vine Railroad is visible as a light band on the cultivated fields pointed out in this photo by the two green arrows. The path of the trail is the light yellow line.
Track maps, created by the former railroad operators, provided vital data for the land survey. However, this section of the corridor had a couple curves that were difficult to define. The track maps called out reference points that were destroyed earlier when neighbors farmed across the corridor. The usable track map data described property lines that misaligned with adjacent known property lines.
Friends spent more than two years searching for better data. For instance they visited railroad collectors in a search for track maps with the critical data. Then a clerk at the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office’s was searching for a document he needed for his work when he noticed a survey that he thought might be important for the Pumpkinvine project. It was a survey conducted by Weaver in the mid-1940s. The Weaver survey installed a pipe in a fence line hundreds of feet south of the railroad corridor and specified the location of the corridor relative to the pipe. The survey also called out a railroad mileage sign within the railroad corridor in the woods east of County Road 127. The concrete sign had crumbled flush to the soil and reinforcement rebar were bent down flush so it was not readily visible under the woods liter. The railroad corridor boundary was also specified relative to the sign. The Weaver survey provided the additional information needed to completely define the railroad corridor boundaries between the two county roads. If the Weaver survey had not been discovered construction of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail could have been delayed for an unknown number of years.
In 1888 the Canada and Saint Louis Railway Company acquired land for the Pumpkin Vine Railroad by issuing land contracts to the property owners. On August 17, 1889 the Canada and Saint Louis Railway Company was acquired by the Sturgis, Goshen and St. Louis Railway at a foreclosure sale. Soon the land contracts were purchased from the owners in exchange for either warranty or easement deeds. The deeds described the boundaries of each railway property as being either 33 or 40 feet from the center of the railroad tracks. The descriptions were unsatisfactory in that the boundaries would become undefinable if the tracks were moved or removed.
From the beginning the Pumpkin Vine Railroad was operated by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company (LSMS). In December 1914 thirteen railroad companies, including the LSMS, stretching from New York State to Chicago, were consolidated to form the New York Central Railway Company. New York Central adopted a policy of documenting their properties. Surveyors were employed to measure the locations of the Pumpkin Vine Railroad property lines relative to the tracks and draftsmen recorded the data in drawings called track maps. The maps on 3 x 2 foot sheets of velum were stacked sequentially according to the path of the tracks and were bound into bundles for each railroad branch. They were updated biannually. New York Central held one copy and a second copy was archived in the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office.
The track maps specified the locations and bearings where the railroad property lines crossed the township section lines. Where there were curves between section lines the track maps cited additional reference points such bridges and other permanent structures.
The New York Central Railroad, including the Pumpkin Vine Railroad, underwent several mergers and re-incorporations during the 20th Century. In 1975 Penn Central, the corporate owner at that time, filed a notice of abandonment for the Pumpkin Vine Branch at the Interstate Commerce Commission. Track maps for abandoned railroads became collector items among railroad memorabilia buffs.
Friends purchased the abandoned Pumpkin Vine corridor from Penn Central in 1993. As development of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail progressed Friends were fortunate that a set of track maps was available in a small archive at the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office. The maps provided valuable information for re-finding the property lines of the trail corridor, especially where the railroad bed was destroyed and occupied by neighbors. Some parts of the corridor might have been lost without the maps.
We are pleased to announce the three winners of the first annual Pumpkinvine Poetry Contest, which concluded January 31, 2018
First prize: Four tickets for the annual dinner or Pumpkinvine Bike Ride.
Awe By Matthew Lind
Each day it waits, patiently.
I know it’s there
And even that
Fills me with anticipation.
It is a place where freedom lies
And comfort, perhaps
Aren’t the Rocky Mountains “awe”?
Maybe Precipice Trail,
Red River Gorge,
The Highland Trail…
But the Pumpkinvine?
Let me explain.
It is awe,
Brought down to earth;
A miracle that forms
This wondrous NOW.
It does not shout;
There is a place
For majestic mountain peaks,
For the overload of senses
That completely humbles.
Yet here this is:
Of forest and field,
Of understated beauty,
Of awe laid low.
Our back yard
Where we live,
Yet animated by the same
That form Yosemite’s vistas.
It does not shout.
“Come, walk my path.
Second prize: Three tickets for the annual dinner or Pumpkinvine Bike Ride.
The Path By Elizabeth Linn
I am snowy carpets, bare branches and peace. I am green grass, budding leaves and hope. I am warm sunshine, wildflowers and fulfillment. I am crisp air, vibrant colors and contentment. In all seasons, I am exchanged greetings, shared smiles and community.
Third prize: 1 ticket for the annual dinner or Pumpkinvine Bike Ride.
Haiku By Steve Ellis
Silence on the Pumpkinvine. The bike chain hums And peace overtakes my soul.
Comment by Ervin Beck, contest judge
All the poems fulfill in a thoughtful, artful way the goal of the contest: to help us see and experience the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in a new, imaginative way. Matt Lind casts his poem in a free verse form and uses very short lines to create a breathless, passionate argument. He persuades us to “Awake!” to the beauty that lies in the seemingly mundane “atoms” of the nature trail. No matter that his poem has 40 lines instead of the limit of 30 stated by the contest rules. Plenty of the short lines could be combined with others, without loss.
Elizabeth Linn personifies the trail, giving it a speaking voice. Like the Psalms and Walt Whitman, her pleasing poetic form consists of parallel sentence structures, with images blossoming into meaning. Elizabeth knew where to stop. Just one more line would be too much.
Steve Ellis masters the haiku form, the Japanese poetry that consists of 17 syllables divided among three lines. Much in little. His concrete images move us toward deep feeling.
Consider this: Every time we ride the Pumpkinvine we engage a kind of proto-poem. Our trail does not have a boring, literal name, like Monon, 146th Street, Angola, B & O, or Big Four. We could have named our trail similarly, as the Lakeshore and Michigan Southern. Unlike those names, our trail is a “pumpkinvine,” that is, a metaphor, and metaphors are basic ingredients in poems.
The asphalt is really a pumpkin stalk, winding back and forth, up and down, creeping slowly toward Shipshewana or Goshen. A “branch” of the vine heads for the Essenhaus. The streams and rivulets are tendrils on the vine. The wildflowers are pumpkin buds. Where is the pumpkin fruit? Maybe in an Essenhaus pie?
Admiring these poems and riding on the metaphor might inspire you to write a poem for the 2019 contest. “Awake!” Enjoy!
Sponsored by Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society (INPAWS) - North Chapter
Saturday afternoon April 21, 2018
Open to INPAWS members & the public
The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail replaces most of an abandoned railroad from Goshen to Shipshewana, about 16 miles. The section of the trail around mile 4.5 has a nice wildflower display from mid-April to mid-May. On April 21, 2017 there were about 15 species blooming, but Spring 2018 may be different. John J. Smith, a member of INPAWS and the Friends of the Pumpkinvine, will lead the hike.
There are two options for this event -- a 10-mile round-trip bike ride or a one-mile round-trip hike.
Wildflower Bike Ride
Bikers will meet at the Abshire Park parking lot at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 21 to ride together the five miles to the intersection of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and County Road 33. Abshire Park is in Goshen on State Road 4 (1302 East Lincoln Ave.), less than one mile east of the Elkhart County Courthouse. There is a large lot at Abshire Park, for parking and unloading bikes. The trail begins near the parking lot. We will ride bikes together to mile marker 5.0. En route we will stop briefly at two-or-three places to see what’s blooming, but the best wildflower display is near mile 4.5. We will meet hikers at mile 5.0 to begin the hike at 3 p.m. The hike will end at 4:30 p.m. Bikers will return to Abshire park at their own pace. Note: Bikers must preregister by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or at (574) 533-9496 by April 16. There is a limit of 15 bikers.
Walkers are to meet at 2:45 p.m. at the Abshire Park lot (see directions above) to car-pool to County Road 33, where there is space for only two vehicles. The hike will begin at 3 p.m. and end by 4:30, when the car-pool will return to Abshire Park. Note: Hikers must pre-register by contacting email@example.com or at (574) 533-9496 by April 16. There is a limit of 10 hikers.
We will go rain or shine, unless there are thunderstorms; call John at (574) 903-0191 if the weather is uncertain.
I’ve lost track of the number of community meetings I’ve attended where the speakers praised trails like the Pumpkinvine as an important element in improving the quality of life in a community, along with good schools, meaningful jobs and a strong business community. One such meeting was at the Lerner Theatre several years ago when the president of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, Pete McCowen, was promoting the Vibrant Communities initiative. In explaining the kind of initiatives the foundation was interested in promoting, he gave three examples of projects the Community Foundation had supported that had made a significant difference in our community’s quality of life: The Lerner Theater renovation and the creation of the Wellfield Botanical Garden in Elkhart and the birth of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.
I was pleased that the Pumpkinvine was on his list, but not really surprised because I’d heard the same comments in numerous other meetings about what factors make a town a desirable place to live. Surveys that measure what communities want put accessible places to walk and bike – what trails provide – near the top of the list. That’s where people want to live. One such ranking that uses these criteria is the annual “Best Places to Live” article in Money magazine.
Now our community has an opportunity to make our trails into an even better trail system. The story on page 10 of this newsletter introduces the Quaker Trace Trail, an off-road trail that supporters would like to see connect Elkhart, Bristol and Middlebury. If they are successful it would connect with the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in Middlebury and (with the MapleHeart Trail from Goshen to Elkhart, form a 40+ mile, off-road loop around Elkhart County.
This loop promises to enhance the trail system in Elkhart County just as other additions to the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail have done, e.g., the MapleHeart connecting Goshen to Ox Bow County Park and Elkhart, the Abshire Trail and Monroe Street trails connecting the Pumpkinvine to the Elkhart County fair grounds and the Ridge Run Trail connecting the Pumpkinvine with Greencroft Middlebury, the Essenhaus and Northridge schools.
It is worth noting that trails have the support of many rural residents, as well as city folk. Last fall when the Friends of the Pumpkinvine contacted area Amish churches and asked for donations to support construction of the Pumpkinvine between County Road 20 and County Road 35, the Amish community responded with a generous contribution – a tangible way of saying that they support this extension of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. This community, which uses bicycles more than any other group for transportation, recognizes that the Pumpkinvine improves the quality of rural as well as urban life.
National Geographic magazine (along with the national Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) is celebrating 2018 as the Year of the Bird, because 2018 is “the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird protection law ever passed” (National Geographic website). In its January issue, National Geographic includes articles with many fine photos of birds of all types from around the world. The central idea of the articles is “birds matter.” The greater number of bird species in a community, the healthier the community.
The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail connects many natural areas that support a great diversity of birds. Goshen birder Bob Guth verifies that diversity every time he walks the trail, listing the species he observes. Bob has walked the five miles from County Road 33 to State Road 4 at Abshire Park over 40 times. He keeps cumulative lists of what he calls three “hotspots” in that section: #1 from County Road 33 to county Road 26 (122 species); #2 County Road 26 to County Road 28 (116 species); and #3 County Road 28 to State Road 4 (126 species). That’s a lot of birds.
Photos from left: Bob Guth has identified more than 360 birds along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. Wild Turkey south of SR 4 - Photo by John Yoder Pileated Woodpecker - Photo by John Harley Easter Phoebe - Photo by John Harley White Throated Sparrow _ Photo by John Harley
In the stream and trail edge habitat at mile 5.0 (near CR 33) and in the well-preserved hardwood forest around mile 4.5, Bob has seen pileated woodpeckers, eastern Phoebes, yellow-billed cuckoos, redbellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees. In the open area with native grasses and prairie wildflowers, he has spotted Lincoln sparrows, white-throated sparrows, Baltimore orioles, and eastern bluebirds; occasionally he sees goldfinches, white-crowned sparrows, tree sparrows, and song sparrows eating Indian grass. Christine Guth (Bob’s wife) once saw a pair of foxes with three kits near mile 4.0. Horned larks nest in the farmland between 3.5 and 3.0 and snow-buntings and Lapland longspurs migrate through in late fall. Sandhill cranes fly over the trail near Butts Lake, near mile 1.5, in the fall. Wild turkeys frequent the trail between mile 1.0 and 0.5. This is only a sampling of the birds along the trail.
Before European settlement, Elkhart and LaGrange counties were covered with hardwood forests and wetlands, with smaller pockets of prairies and savannas. Today only fragments of these habitats remain. The Pumpkinvine is an important 16-mile long and 80-foot wide green connector of the remaining fragments. This connector allows birds, insects and mammals to move from fragment to fragment, where they feed, breed and raise their young. Connected habitat fragments helps sustain the vitality and size of animal and plant populations. Interconnecting diverse populations of native species is critical to sustaining a high quality natural environment. By providing a connecting greenway for birds, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail plays an important role in improving the environmental quality of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties.
An index to birds along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail can be found at www.ebird.com.
Why is there a masonry wall along the trail in Middlebury?
This story is about a decision made in 1888 that influenced the design of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail over 120 years later. Edson and Mary Foster owned a farm immediately south of what is currently Sunrise Drive in Middlebury. In 1888 the Fosters granted a warranty deed to the Canada and St. Louis Railway Company for a 66 foot wide and 1300 foot long strip of land across their farm. The Fosters placed several conditions in the deed including the following: “If the said Railway Company its successors or assigns shall fail to construct and operate a Railway from Sturgis Michigan to Goshen Indiana within two years of the date thereof on the right of way herein granted or if such Railway is completed and put in operation it shall cease to used, then in either event this grant shall cease to be operative and the right of way herein granted shall terminate and shall revert to the grantor, his heirs and assigns.”
This condition meant that Friends did not become owners this section of the railroad corridor when they purchased the remainder of the corridor from Penn Central in 1993. Instead when railroad operations ceased in 1975 the Foster parcel was divided with the east half of the corridor reverting to ten adjacent landowners and the west half becoming the property of one landowner. Friends were anxious about how to build a contiguous trail through Middlebury.
Friends were delighted in 2006 when Mary Heign sold them the 33 foot wide strip she owned on the west side. Thirty three feet ought to be sufficient width to build a 10 foot wide trail. However, the railroad bed cut through a hill. At that point the west side of Friends’ 33 foot strip was largely occupied by a steep slope populated with large trees. During trail construction in 2013 the trees were removed and the top of the hill was removed. The masonry wall was installed to hold back the remainder of the hill making space for the trail.