GOSHEN — Organizers are marking 30 years since founders first met to plan what would become the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail through Elkhart County. 

Those five cycling enthusiasts met Dec. 4, 1989, to discuss the possibility of constructing a linear park built on the abandoned Pumpkin Vine Railroad corridor. The trail – which connects Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana – continues to grow and improve. 

The original founders of what would become Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail – John Yoder, John Kolb, Chet Peachey, Norm Kauffman and Ervin Beck – say they’ll celebrate 30 years of that meeting on Wednesday.

The idea of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail can be traced back to several events, according to organizers. 

While Elkhart County Parks had a trail as part of its Master Plan as far back as 1972, the idea came to John Yoder while on sabbatical in Oakbrook, Illinois, in 1988. “Rail trails” were becoming popular, and during that time, he and his family rode the Illinois Prairie Path and had a lot of fun doing so. Similarly, the Kolbs, Peacheys and Kauffmans had ridden a trail in the Netherlands while vacationing in 1988, and they, too, enjoyed trail riding.

After a Saturday morning bike ride from Wakarusa, the men were talking about the possibility of forming a trail on the abandoned Pumpkin Vine corridor and decided to meet formally to discuss planning what is now the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.

“I thought maybe this (a rail trail) would be possible,” Yoder said. “We had no expertise, but my feeling was, if we don’t try, we’ll regret it.”

The legal and political challenges over the years were many, but, as John Kolb said, “The first hurdle was acquiring the property. It’s difficult dealing with the railroads. Once they’ve acquired right-of-way, it’s hard for them to give it up.”

Eventually Penn Central agreed to sell for $100,000. The newly formed Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail raised $60,000 from donors and borrowed the remaining $40,000.

“None of us knew the trail would ever happen, and yet even people that would never be able to use the trail in some cases gave,” Yoder said. 

The names of the founding donors who gave $500 are located on a plaque in Abshire Park in Goshen.

A lot has happened in 30 years, the organizers said. The trail became a reality, because according to Yoder, “A lot of unexpected miracles happened along the way – things happened that were really amazing.”

Today, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail stretches approximately 17 miles. It has significantly enhanced the safety and quality of life for residents in the communities it touches, according to organizers, and has had an economic impact as well.

At the end of the year, both Yoder, the board president, and Peachey, a long-time board member, will be retiring from their terms on Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail board. They assured everyone that The Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail Inc. is in good hands.

As the main focus shifts away from trail-building, all agree on the future of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail.

“Enjoy it. Maintain it and add to it. Enhance it,” the founders said in a release. 

Source: Andrea Thompson

LEARN MORE

Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Inc. is a non-for-profit organization of cyclists, hikers, runners and naturalists who work with area park departments to create a linear park and greenway on the former Pumpkinvine railroad corridor through Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana. Friends have been working for several years to close gaps in the trail. More information: www.pumpkinvine.org.

Pumpkinvine Nature Trail Timeline

n 1978 Elkhart County Park Master plan (1979-83) includes Pumpkinvine as possible linear park.

n December 4, 1989 Ad hoc committee of Ervin Beck, Norm Kauffmann, John Kolb, Chet Peachey and John Yoder meet to discuss promoting a linear park on Pumpkinvine right-of-way. Galen Kauffmann joins the group the next month.

n March 11, 1992 C.J. Yoder, Chuck Lehman and John Yoder evaluate the Pumpkinvine’s condition.

n May, 1992 Ad hoc committee incorporates as Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Inc.

n June 3, 1992 Friends sign option to purchase with Penn Central.

n March 11, 1993 Jim Brotherson attorney with Chester, Paff and Brotherson, Elkhart law firm, offers to represent the Friends of the Pumpkinvine pro bono. He recruits Jim Byron of Thorne, Grodnik, Ransel, Duncan, Byron & Hostetler to his legal team.

n October 22, 1993 Penn Central agrees to sell Pumpkinvine corridor for $100,000. Friends raise $60,000 and borrow $40,000 to reach that goal. Eighty-five individuals and businesses contribute $500 each to be recognized as trail founders.

n December 22, 1993 Friends and Penn Central have closing at Schrock Pavilion in Shanklin Park.

n January 13, 1994 Friends file lawsuit on Pumpkinvine corridor between SR 4 and CR 28 to determine ownership.

n September 2, 1994 Judge Worth Yoder rules that the Friends own Pumpkinvine corridor from SR 4 to CR 28. Friends and Goshen Parks determine to make this 1.75-mile section a linear park demonstration section.

n July, 1995 Friends file lawsuit to determine ownership of the Pumpkinvine corridor on eight-mile section of the Pumpkinvine corridor between US 20 and CR 850W in LaGrange County.

n October 4, 1997 Norm Kauffmann resigns from Friends board to become Shipshewana town manager.

n June 14, 1999 Friends of the Pumpkinvine donate 1.75 miles of Pumpkinvine between SR 4 and CR 28 to the City of Goshen.

n March 2, 2000 First 1.5-mile section of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail opens between SR 4 and CR 28 in Goshen.

n September 17, 2005 Half-mile section of the Pumpkinvine between Wayne St. and Bristol Street opens in Middlebury.

n June 6, 2009 Grand opening of 3.3 miles of the Pumpkinvine between CR 28 to CR 33.

n October 8, 2011 Grand opening of 5.5 miles of the Pumpkinvine between Middlebury and Shipshewana.

n June, 2012 1.4-mile section of Pumpkinvine between County Road 35 and County Road 37 is completed.

n October 5, 2013 Ribbon cutting for Pumpkinvine from U.S. 20 to Wayne Steet in Middlebury.

n June 15, 2019 One-mile section of the Pumpkinvine between CR 33 and CR 20 opens.

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