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.