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.