Pumpkinvine vegetation cleared at road crossings after deadly bike accident, signs coming

Elkhart County road crews have cut back vegetation where the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail crosses some roads as a safety precaution.
Posted on Nov. 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 20, 2013 at 1:21 p.m.

There's a bit less greenery along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in spots, and it's not just because of the cool fall weather.

As an extra precaution — and in response to the Sept. 5 accident on the trail that led to the death of bicyclist Dale Ewers — Elkhart County road crews have trimmed back additional vegetation where the path intersects some county roadways.

County road crews were already attentive to the issue, mindful of the importance of clear lines of vision where the Pumpkinvine meets roadway, noted Scott VanOmmeran, superintendent of parks for the Elkhart County Parks and Recreation Department. “We just went the extra step to insure what we could do was done,” he said.

He singled out the trimming — tree removal even — where the Pumpkinvine crosses C.R. 127, the spot northeast of Goshen where Ewers was hit. All intersections, though, got a look after the accident, and grass and vegetation were also trimmed where C.R. 28 and C.R. 26 meet the path.

The Pumpkinvine meanders along the corridor of an abandoned railroad line from Goshen to Middlebury to Shipshewana. All along the way, it crosses county roads and the Ewers accident prompted calls from friends and family of the Goshen man for increased safety measures along the path such as warning signs for motorists, largely absent in Elkhart County.

Such signs — warning motorists ahead of the spots where the Pumpkinvine crosses roadway — had actually been in the works well before Ewers accident. They still haven't been placed, but VanOmmeran said efforts continue and they ought to be put up before the end of the year.

The Elkhart County Highway Department and parks officials are pinning down exactly where to place the signs at each crossing, factoring things such as hills, curves, speed limit and other existing signage. They're also finalizing what exactly will be on the sign or signs at each spot. Likely signs will be a yellow diamond depicting a bicycle and a person with another sign below that reading “Trail crossing.”

Signs are to be placed on about 10 roadways that intersect the Pumpkinvine, including C.R. 28, C.R. 127, C.R. 33 and C.R. 35, complementing signage already in place at crossings further east toward Shipshewana.


Heidi Davies, a friend of Ewers, looks forward to the placement of signs. Still, even that isn't foolproof.

“Once you get the signs up, there's nothing more you can do. It's up to the motorists and the cyclists,” she said.

She and other friends of Ewers, who died five days after the accident on Sept. 10, have come to the sad conclusion that he likely didn't look before crossing C.R. 127 while bicycling the Pumpkinvine. The preliminary Elkhart County Sheriff's Department report on the accident cites the driver of the car that hit Ewers as saying the cyclist didn't heed the stop sign on the Pumpkinvine before entering C.R. 127.

For his part, John Yoder, president of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Trail, welcomed the decision to cut back the vegetation. The nonprofit group promotes the trail.

“I think it's great, because the thing that slows bikers more than anything else is if they can see a car,” he said. “So giving them the broadest possible sight lines is great.”

Meanwhile, the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department investigation continues. Officials await results of routine drug and alcohol tests taken after the accident of the driver, Milton Bontrager of Louisville, Ky.

A fundraiser in Ewers name is tentatively slated for March 8 in Plymouth to raise money for bike safety, according to Davies. The man's mother, Kelly Foreman, said she hopes to place some memorial to her son near the spot where he was hit.


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