I’ve spent the last two weeks of my internship frantically trying to wrap up my different projects (with this blog post being the last of them).
The summer is wrapping up as GCS begins the 2018-19 school year on Wednesday, and with it so wraps up my summer internship. There are only two weeks left and yet it feels like there is so much left to do!
I still have to make significant edits to my long term management plan before submitting it to the different parks departments, I want to begin composing a Spanish translation for the Friends website, I need to write an official thesis proposal for my school (Amherst College), I need to contact the parties who funded my summer here and thank them for making this opportunity economically feasible, I need to prepare a final presentation on my work for the Friends’ board, and I need to take time to stop and smell the roses.
Obviously not the multiflora roses though because those are invasive.
This summer has been so full of new experiences — namely living at home for the first time since I left for college in 2015. I’ve done a lot of work from The Brew, JoJo’s Pretzels, and my bed (from which I write this post right now). I am doing work for a job that I never would have imagined myself having (and even less, enjoying) in places that I grew up in. I applied to colleges in these places, imagining myself majoring in Flute Performance, maybe a minor in Spanish or Political Science, definitely playing in my college marching band.
I find myself back in my favorite spots for getting work done going into my senior year of college as an Environmental Studies major who plays on the rugby team and has not touched her flute in over a year.
I’ve spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how different I am from who I thought I would be, but living in Goshen again has made me realize that some things never change. I still love a straight forward original pretzel, prefer maple frosted cinnamon rolls over vanilla, and will fall asleep working in my bed 100% of the time.
The beauty of interning for the Friends this summer has been getting to watch this new version of myself interact with places and people of my past. So many things can change, but I can always count on the tornado siren going off at 2pm on Thursday. I know every person I walk/bike/run past will smile, nod, and say hi no matter what. And I know that this place will always feel like home.
So this post is less about the specifics of my work on the trail this summer (in short: hot, mosquitos, poison ivy, meetings, technology, writing, research, emails), and instead it is about how much I appreciate having the opportunity to be here for one last summer and give back to the community that has given me so much.
This feels like a farewell post, but as the title of this blog post suggests — I still have two more weeks! So keep your eyes peeled for a farewell post that is much less about me, and much more about the final products of all the work I’ve done this summer and where I see nature management headed for the Pumpkinvine in the years to come!
The Bontrager Family Foundation has awarded the Friends of the Pumpkinvine a $25,000 matching grant toward the cost of construction of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail between County Road 20 and County Road 35. In other words, the Family Foundation will match other trail-development donations – dollar for dollar – up to a total of $25,000. “Via this grant, the Bontrager Family Foundation has offered a powerful incentive to other prospective donors to invest in the closure of this remaining ‘gap’ in the Trail between Middlebury and Goshen,” said John Ferguson, Friends board member. The estimated cost for this .5-mile segment is $600,000, with all but approximately $55,000 of this amount having been already pledged or received.
“We as a family appreciate the Pumpkinvine Trail as it offers recreation opportunities for the community and transportation routes for Jayco’s and other’s employees,” said Wilbur Bontrager, Jayco chairman. It enhance safety for those that otherwise would ride on our roadways. We as a family feel it’s become a valued community asset and
also needs to be completed through several more critical areas.” Jayco, Inc. founders, Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager,
had committed themselves to supporting local causes even before founding the company in 1968. Sons Wilbur and Derald, with other Bontrager family members and their Jayco colleagues, continued their generous support of numerous causes through the years. The Bontrager Family Foundation was launched following the sale of Jayco to Thor Industries. “We wanted to continue our ability to support charities as we have in the past,” said Wilbur Bontrager, a member of the second of three generations of Bontragers now involved with the Family Foundation.
“Personally, I love the Pumpkinvine Trail,” said Jason Bontrager, a third generation Bontrager family member. “I use it on average two-three times a week for biking, running, and walking during all four seasons. The Ridge Run Trail and the Essenhaus connector have been great additions, too, and I and many others are very grateful for them. It is such a great benefit to the communities of Middlebury and Goshen, not just for exercise but also as a much safer alternative to riding on roadways. I plan to bike even more on the Middlebury-to-Goshen route once the ‘gap’ is completed. In the future, I look forward to helping make our area safer for cyclists whether commuters or recreational riders. I hope other area trails, like the Friends of Quaker Trace Trail, can find ways to further connect our community by developing more trails like the Pumpkinvine!”
This donation from the Bontrager Family Foundation is a tangible way the family has chosen to express their appreciation for the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail as it is and to help close the gaps in the trail. The Friends of the Pumpkinvine are very grateful for their vision and community spirit.
The 2018 Pumpkinvine Bike Ride was a success, according to the feedback we received from 300 participants. Over 1,000 riders signed up and 856 showed up for the ride. The weather forecast for morning rain, which we had for about an hour, wasn’t enough to deter most riders. The afternoon warmed up, but it was not as hot as some years.
Rider Feedback: We had 289 people respond to our survey about the ride. The responses indicate that most were pleased with the ride. Here are some results I found interesting:
- Many commented about how well organized the ride was and how friendly the volunteers were.
- This was first or second time on the ride for 52.2% Most heard about the ride from a friend (31.5%), the mailed brochure (26.6%) and from email (25.2%).
- 58% just followed the road markings, 16% used a GPS/phone.
- 90.2% felt the road markings were adequate to impressive.
- 96.2% felt the food was adequate to impressive.
- 98.2% felt the service at the SAGS was adequate to impressive.
- 96.2% felt the cost was appropriate with 15% of that group willing to pay more.
- 92.3% are planning on riding next year
We tried to be more direct with some of our promotions using WSBT for digital advertising and a TV ad that ran during news broadcasts. The results are mixed. Bob Carrico compared past registrations with 2018 registration by region. We did not see a significant boost in registrations overall but did see a boost in the Fort Wayne area. It is hard to say if the new ads really made a difference. There is no marketing silver bullet. I think it is interesting that a large percent of the survey respondents were first- or second-time riders. That does show the importance of continually getting the word out about the ride.
The logistics have been improving each year. The initial check in/registration went very smoothly. The staffing levels we had with iPads was just about right. The line while long at the beginning moved very quickly. The more significant price boost for week/day of ride registration did not stop anyone. There will always be a few late comers.
Getting food, tables, tents, road markings, port a johns, coolers and bike racks, etc. out to the SAG’s is a true team effort. We expect to improve our food ordering again in 2019. The relative consistency of the number of riders the last couple of years will enable us to reset some food quantities to more realistic levels. Both of us are extremely grateful for the more than 100 volunteers who made the ride a success by their hospitality and friendliness toward our guests from all over the Midwest.
Last summer the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University’s School of Public Health conducted a survey on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail to collect data on trail usage, health factors relating to trail usage and the economic impact the trail has on surrounding communities. The Pumpkinvine was one of eight trail systems in Indiana that participated in this study.
Across all eight trails, there were some key findings.
- 52% of trail users were cyclists. In a similar 2001 study, the most popular activity was walking, so this is quite a shift.
- 67% of trail users report an improvement in their exercise level because of trail usage.
- Those who use the trail report spending more than $3500 annually on trailrelated expenses, such as bicycles, clothing, shoes, food, transportation, etc.
- Trail users say they enjoy better overall health, fewer sleep problems, less pain and less stress than non-users.
• 66% of trail “neighbors” believe the trail has increased their property value.
- How did the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail compare to the seven other participating trail systems? In a lot of cases, the findings were very much in-line with the others, however there were some key differences.
- 72% of surveyed trail users are cyclists. This is a significantly higher number than the 52% that was reported statewide.
- The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail has fewer walkers. Only 16% of those surveyed are walkers, compared to 29% statewide.
- There are also fewer runners and joggers on the Pumpkinvine. 11.5% report that they run or jog, versus 19% statewide.
- There are slightly more birdwatchers on the Pumpkinvine, compared to the other trails.
It’s interesting to note that Pumpkinvine cyclists were far ahead of the statewide average in the distance they cover when cycling. Pumpkinvine cyclists average 12.5 miles per ride, compared to 9.5 miles per ride statewide. They are also above average in the minutes per session, riding on average 84 minutes, compared to 72 minutes statewide. The only instance where Pumpkinvine cyclists were slightly below average was in how many days they ride, which is 3 days per week, compared to 3.5 days per week statewide.
About half of all Pumpkinvine users drive to access the trail, which is a little higher than the state average. Additionally, Pumpkinvine users travel a greater distance to use the trail, compared to users of the other Indiana trails. 26% of Pumpkinvine users travel more than seven miles to access the trail, compared to 14.5% statewide. When you consider the potential that the trail has to draw tourists, this is very important information to have.
Reasons for Usage:
While the majority of Pumpkinvine users are on the trail for physical activity, 21% of users say they use the trail for recreation. This was the highest average of any trail that was surveyed. Perhaps this is why people travel further to use the trail.
You may have seen the recent articles in The Goshen News on how the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail helps boost the local economy. According to this study, it’s true. On average, Pumpkinvine users report spending more than $3000 per year on trail-related expenditures, such as bikes, clothing, food – and transportation to get to the trail (gas, etc). This coincides with the long distances people travel to use the trail. The information above is a broad summary of the Eppley report. To view the full trail study summary report for the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, visit https://eppley.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/TrailsStudy_PumpkinvineNTReport.pdf.
The long awaited, much anticipated construction that will close the gap in the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail between County Road 20 and County Road 33 has started. All the permits from the relevant environmental agencies have been obtained and the contract for construction has been signed with the Pulver Asphalt Paving Inc., Albion, Ind., the same company that built the last section of the Pumpkinvine between County Road 35 and County Road 37. The Timber Bridge over Pine Creek will be done by R. Yoder Construction of Nappanee Ind.
After five years of negotiating, the Friends of the Pumpkinvine purchased the land for the trail route from five families on June 26, 2017 and donated it to Elkhart County Parks in April 2018. In those 10 months, the Friends of the Pumpkinvine and Elkhart County Parks worked out the details of the trail’s route, the location of vegetation screening, fencing for horses, water access for livestock and easements for the landowners to cross the completed trail. In addition, because the trail is to be built close to the south fork of Pine Creek, it was necessary to obtain environmental permits from the Elkhart County drainage board, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Army Corp of Engineers – a process that took almost nine months.
Since April, there have been further discussions about the construction documents with JPR, the firm hired for engineering, the easements across the trail, the details of a proposed overpass and the requirements of a conservation easement that was a part of the grant the Friends of the Pumpkinvine received from the Bicentennial Nature Trust of Indiana Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the purchase of the land.
On April 24, 2018, the Friends of the Pumpkinvine held our annual dinner in Elkhart for the first time. Our previous 16 dinners had been in the Pumpkinvine towns of Goshen, Middlebury or Shipshewana, and although we have many supporters in Elkhart, we weren’t sure if people from the three main towns identified with the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail would travel to Elkhart for this dinner. We also had avoided Elkhart because we had trouble finding a suitable venue for 250 people, i.e., one with good food, good sight lines to the stage and a great sound system. But the renovation of the Lerner Theater and Crystal Ballroom created an outstanding venue, and thanks to the persistence of Brittany Short, the annual dinner’s chair, we decided to give the Elkhart a try, and the results were very gratifying. The room was full (260 registered) and the three screens made it possible for everyone to see what was projected.
My theme for the evening was the incredible patience our supporters have shown in supporting the Friends of the Pumpkinvine over the last three decades, even when there was little tangible progress to show for their financial support. Still they were faithful.
More recently it was the Community Foundation of Elkhart County that has been patient with the slow progress we’ve made in closing two gaps in the Pumpkinvine in Elkhart County. They understand that it takes time to negotiate a route through the land of five rural landowners.
I also reviewed some of the highlights of the year on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and for our organization, the Friends of the Pumpkinvine. These include the covered picnic table between CR 35 and CR 37, the repairs to the bridge over the Little Elkhart River in Middlebury, redecking of bridges over Rock Run Creek in Goshen and Mather Ditch in Middlebury. A major event was the opening of the Ridge Run Trail in Middlebury connecting the Pumpkinvine with the Essenhaus, Greencroft Middlebury and North Ridge High School. The Friends of the Pumpkinvine were not directly responsible for this one-mile spur off the Pumpkinvine, but we claim it as a child that wouldn’t exist without the Pumpkinvine.
Another theme of the evening was how the Amish community in Elkhart County responded to an appeal for contributions to close the gap in the trail between CR 20 and CR 35. For some time, we have recognized that our Amish neighbors are some of the heaviest users of the Pumpkinvine, yet only one or two have become members. We thought that the community that used the trail the most would contribute toward its expansion or upkeep, if we found the right approach. We consulted with Junior and Mary Schlabach, two Amish friends, and they suggested we send a letter, authorize by the bishops, to be read in the churches. We did that in November 2017 and the response was very gratifying. As I said at the dinner, the Schlabachs ask that we not publish the total raised, but what I can say is that the Amish churches would be eligible to have their name placed on the recognition rocks we have promised to individuals and organizations that gave $10,000 toward closing the gaps in the trail more than once.
I left the annual dinner with renewed appreciation for our supporters who have waited patiently as the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail came together like a giant jig saw puzzle over 25 years.
This issue’s naturalist corner centers around a photo of me working along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in late June. In the photo, I am using my cellphone in way you might interpret as disinterest in the nature surrounding me. Typical 20-something, right?
A common narrative these days is that teenagers and young adults only care about electronic devices to the detriment of all else (National Geographic published a piece in October 2016 titled “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get into Parks?”).
But I believe this narrative of technology as evil and harmful to the natural world misses a key element of modern naturalist studies: the ability to use technology as a tool to enhance the range of identification tools (iNaturalist is my favorite for identification help) and management strategies available to everyone.
In the photo of me on my phone, I am actually using an app to mark and label the GPS location of a clump of wood nettle.
With that datum point and many others taken along the stretch of continuous forest, I was able to create the map (Image 2) that will help myself, the parks departments and any future volunteers know where to begin their work on managing invasive species threatening the natural area around the trail.
So, what does it mean to be a modern naturalist? Basically, the same thing it meant to be a naturalist during any other time, but with the addition of embracing technology as a way to better understand and protect the nature around us.