650 feet of greenway to the west of County Road 35 in Middlebury is nearly complete, and the long-anticipated closure of the Trail’s final gap is on the horizon. However, Brittany Short, Friends of the Pumpkinvine Board President, says that getting to this point took longer than anticipated.
Gas main discovery halts 2020 construction
In October of 2020, Trail construction started and then stopped quickly. As tree and brush removal began, workers identified the presence of a gas main. It had not been flagged in earlier locates. Excavators determined that the main was also wrapped in tree roots, which would have to be removed to create a stable base for asphalt. Contractors could face large financial penalties if they were to damage the main during the extraction process. So, after months of negotiation with the utility company, the contractors settled on hydro-excavation to expose the line, and cutting roots by hand–a labor intensive endeavor. Ultimately these complications delayed the Fall’s construction plans until 2021.
“All the typical due diligence was completed before we purchased this parcel, but like anything else, those safe-guards aren’t perfect.” said Short. “Sometimes these things happen, as much as we’d prefer to avoid them”.
Why is construction occurring in two phases?
The phased construction is due, in large part, to the purchase agreement negotiations that took place mid-2020 .
“The Trial runs extremely close to two property lines and is narrower than any other segment of the Trail completed to date. Because of this, we worked very, very closely with the neighbors to ensure minimal impact on their properties. And last year, in order to close the deal on this final parcel, we had to get creative with our construction timeline.”
Adding to the differences this time around, is the process for completing this final gap. The Friends took full responsibility for the management of construction, and will continue this way into the final phase. Typically, the Friends negotiate the purchase any needed parcels, manage land acquisition and oversee preliminary design and engineering. Once these phases are complete, the Friends transfer land and plans to the appropriate Parks Department. The parks then manage the construction and final engineering processes. But this time around, complex agreements required the Friends to take on additional responsibilities.
Short says that this section will remain closed until second phase is complete in late 2022.
The good news is that the remaining 2550 feet in this gap between Elkhart County Roads 20 and 35 are on track to be constructed in 2022, although there are still some details to resolve. For instance, there are wetlands adjacent to the corridor. Extreme care is being exercised to ensure that the portion of the Trail running through this area will not negatively impact the plant and animal life dependent on it.
The issues referenced here, along with rising construction costs have increased the the project budget, so the Friends will work to raise additional funds.
“I’m proud of what the Board has accomplished, but it takes an entire community to do something like this. It takes those doing the day-to-day work, those advocating on behalf of trails, and those investing in them. After 31 years, we are so close to having a completed Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. And I have every confidence that we will get there by the end of next year.”