Twenty years ago a group of visionaries decided that a bike trail from Goshen to Shipshewana would be a good thing. This past week there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open a major segment. It is now possible to cycle from Shipshewana to Goshen almost entirely on the paved trail. A small segment (1.7 miles) is still on county roads, but the rest of the entire length is an off-road trail along the old Pumpkinvine railroad corridor. Part of the new segment is a tunnel that takes the riders safely under US Rt. 20 instead of having them mix it up with the traffic above. Where the trail crosses St. Rt. 13 there is a traffic light with a special button to allow riders to get a walk signal so they can safely cross the highway. There are still other roads to cross and caution is definitely needed, but those two major intersections have been made as safe as possible.
As is always the case with proposed rail trails, there was great opposition to the idea at first. Many people living along the trail demanded a fence to separate their property from the trail. Now that the trail is established, many of those same people are the trail’s biggest supporters, and in several cases they have put in gates and paths so that they can access the trail themselves directly from their property.
The trail is mostly tree-lined which is nice in the summer and very pretty in the autumn. In the sunny sections native wildflowers have been planted that add a splash of color in the summer. Some of the flowers are still blooming now, although not in the profusion of July. Seeds are being collected from the established wildflowers so that more can be sown to increase the beauty for next year.
The camels that were a popular sight along the trail have been relocated, much to the disappointment of many of the trail users. They are on a different farm now near the trail, but not visible from it. However, south of Middlebury you might spy bison on a farm adjoining the trail. Otherwise you are most likely to encounter chipmunks and squirrels, and there are a lot of them!
The trail is open to non-motorized traffic only. You will see mostly bicycles on the trail, but also a lot of walkers, particularly near Goshen and Middlebury. There are also some skaters, runners, and once in a while a scooter—the old-fashion kid’s toy that you ride standing up and push with one leg. In winter cross-country skiing is not recommended because the poles could potentially damage the asphalt surface. Horses are not allowed for the same reason: hooves could damage the asphalt.
Does the trail get much use? I’ll say! Sunday afternoon we rode from Shipshewana to the trailhead just beyond the US 20 tunnel and back, about 17 miles round trip. On the way back I started counting people who passed us or were coming toward us. By the time we got back to Shipshewana I had counted 123 people and 5 dogs (all on leashes being walked by their owners). The Friends of the Pumpkinvine have an infra-red counter that is also checking the numbers using the trail and a report will be published at the end of the year. Our little group of eight riders on Sunday hailed from Goshen, Howe, Shipshewana, Fort Wayne, and Mishawaka. The trail is a magnet to attract out-of-towners (and their dollars!) to the local communities.
I have ridden the trail at least a half dozen times this year, and never did I see any trash along the trail. It’s nice to see people taking good care of it. There are benches along the trail and also several trash cans. Port-a-potties are available near Goshen and there is a restroom at C.R. 43 east of Middlebury. And of course, Shipshewana, Middlebury, and Goshen offer a lot of options for food and drink.
If you haven’t been on a bike for a while, try the Pumpkinvine. It’s a safe, scenic path that will get you outside in a most pleasant manner. And if you bike a lot, try the Pumpkinvine. It’s a real treat for everyone!