The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail has a new completed section, which connects Middlebury to Shipshewana. Bikers, runners or walkers will now be able to travel 17 miles to Shipshewana, nearly all of that on finished trail.

The new section, which was engineered and constructed by DLZ Indiana, LLC, and Walsh & Kelly, Inc, spans six miles and nearly doubles the length of the developed portions of the trail. This is the longest section of the trail that has been completed at one time.

Only a few more sections of the Pumpkinvine have yet to be completed, and are slated to be finished in 2012 or 2013. Once these sections are finished, the Pumpkinvine will be a seventeen-mile-long linear park connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana. The trail will also connect in Goshen to the eight-mile-long MapleHeart Trail to Elkhart.

Construction on the new section began on September 22, 2010, which marked five years since the Friends of the Pumpkinvine received funding to begin planning this section, and seventeen years after the Friends purchased the Pumpkinvine railroad corridor from Penn Central Corporation in 1993.

Since the group purchased the Pumpkinvine railroad corridor, they have been donating the land to local parks departments after  design and engineering are ready for trail construction. The Friends also have a crucial role in the continuing development of the trail: Friends recruit volunteers to help managing agencies uphold their sections of the trail as well as promote the use of the trail and raise funding for maintenance and improvement projects.

“I think the Pumpkinvine  trail is a wonderful investment in our future,” Jim Smith, the Executive Director of the Friends, said. “We are all elated to see this milestone achieved and feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride. We think that this particular section will become hugely popular. Kids can use it for fun, getting to school, geo-caching, whatever. We expect some adults will use it to get to and from their employment. And of course, what better way to start or end your ride by a visit to the local Dairy Queen or one of the other shops at each end of the trail.”

Though the land was purchased in 1993, many obstacles got in the way of construction in the ensuing years, including two mediated settlements, five legal actions, four land exchanges and several easements on or across the corridor.

As Frances Ringenberg, associate pastor of Prairie Street Mennonite Church and a former member of the board of Friends of the Pumpkinvine, said, “When I first came to the board five years ago, I noticed that many community members were unfamiliar with and suspicious of trails, and didn’t seem too happy about the Pumpkinvine.”

However, as time went by, Ringenberg began to notice a shift in many community members’ thinking. “When people began to see the trail actually being laid out, people really began to appreciate it,” she said. She attributes this favorable opinion of the Pumpkinvine, in large part, to the many health benefits of running and biking, and the “blessing it is to have such a beautiful trail right in your own community.”

Jordan Wiebe-Powell, a sophomore English major at Goshen College, has been using the Pumpkinvine for bike rides since 2009. He has appreciated the availability of the trail. “I’ve always ridden on it with my brother Micah, or a few times with my close cousins, so it’s kind of something we could share together,” Wiebe-Powell said. “I enjoy bike rides because they can be rigorous but peaceful at the same time and the Pumpkinvine is probably one of the most beautiful places to ride in this area.”

Wiebe-Powell is especially eager for the new section to be completed because he says it will make riding the trail feel much easier and smoother.

“The portion that was unfinished from Middlebury to Shipshewana was basically country roads with a few spray paint arrows marking the way, so it wasn’t too navigation friendly, if you know what I mean,” he said. “We’ve gotten lost through there a couple of times, so it’ll be really helpful to have a clear, official route.”

The Pumpkinvine Trail can be accessed from Abshire Park on State Road 4.o