When I became interested in rails-to-trails in the early 1990s, the closest trail to when I lived was the Kal-Haven Trail, formally known as the Kal-Haven Sesquicentennial State Park: https://www.traillink.com/trail/kal-haven-trail-sesquicentennial-state-park/ The trail runs 34 miles from west of Kalamazoo to South Haven Michigan with a crushed stone surface. Whenever I needed inspiration and a renewed vision of what the Pumpkinvine corridor might become, I’d make the hour-plus drive from Goshen to the Kal-Haven and the ride was a tonic: I loved the small towns along the route, the smooth surface the trees along the trail and the open agricultural areas.
When I wanted to show others what the Pumpkinvine corridor could become, I’d take them to the Kal-Haven for show-and-tell. The message was simply: “We can do this, too.” My most memorable excursion of this type was with our state representative, Marvin Riegsecker. At a time when Indiana had zero miles of rails-to-trails, he was the only state elected official willing to look at one and become educated about their potential.
For a public meeting to discuss the desirability of the trail in Middlebury, I arranged for a Kal-Haven adjacent landowner and former leader of the opposition to the Kal-Haven, Steve Haddad, to come to Middlebury to explain how his attitude had changed from opposition to becoming a member of the Friends of the Kal-Haven board. When the Friends of the Pumpkinvine formed as a non-profit organization, we borrowed our bylaws from the Friends of the Kal-Haven. We also considered the idea of having a user fee to fund on-going maintenance of the Pumpkinvine like the Kal-Haven did.
So in many ways, the Kal-Haven was an inspiration for the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. However, in recent years, I’ve been hearing less positive stories about the Kal-Haven. When I met trail users from southern Michigan on the Pumpkinvine, I would ask them why they came to ride the Pumpkinvine when the Kal-Haven Trail was much closer, and they would say that they liked the asphalt surface of the Pumpkinvine better or that it was more interesting than the Kal-Haven.
Then I talked with a friend who had ridden the Kal-Haven recently, and he also said that he enjoyed the Pumpkinvine much more than the Kal-Haven. That comment led to a discussion of its weaknesses, most of which can be summed up in the phrase, lack of maintenance. He noted that there were sections that had been patched with large stones that made crossing the area with a narrow-tired bike difficult and dangerous. (He fell once in such a section.) He said the railroad cabooses that were used to distribute trail maps looked uncared for, and the trail itself had areas where grass was growing up in the middle — an indication of little trail traffic.
My point in writing this blog about the Kal-Haven, which I haven’t seen in 15 years, is to underscore the importance of maintaining a trail after it is built. I think it would be a tragedy for all the supporters who have helped build the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail to have it decline because we didn’t have the vision to see how important maintenance is for the health of the trail. As we near the completion of the Pumpkinvine, it becomes increasingly important that we keep the importance of maintenance in mind — plan for it, raise funds for it and talk about it as a priority.