(Writer’s Note: The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail goes from Goshen to Shipshewana. Although outside of Kosciusko County, it’s worth the short drive.)
With the project starting over 20 years ago, it’s no surprise the recent completion of two sections in the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail would cause excitement. Construction began this spring to finish the segments, 1.5 miles total, alongside Dairy Queen and north of U.S. 20 in Middlebury.
Now, an unbroken trail is complete from CR 35 outside Middlebury, through the town itself and to the east of Shipshewana. Downtown Shipshewana is just a short ride from the trail’s terminus.
Bikers, runners and rollerbladers can also follow the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail from downtown Goshen to County Road 33. Although there is a gap between CRs 33 and 35, organizers suggest taking 1.7 miles of county roads to reconnect.
So, what exactly is the big deal about the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail?
To answer that question, having never stepped foot on the trail before, this writer and her husband biked the trail to experience firsthand what the hubbub is about. Beginning at the gravel parking lot along County Road 35 outside Middlebury, we biked to the trail’s end in Shipshewawa and back again, about 20 miles total.
John Yoder, president of Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, advised us the asphalt trail is mostly level and makes for an easy, enjoyable ride.
This statement proved accurate.
Our total ride time was two and a half hours, allowing for stops to take in scenery and peruse antiques at Old Creamery in downtown Middlebury. Another popular spot for a break is Pumpkinvine Oasis in Middlebury, which serves ice cream and coffee, but accepts cash only.
On a Saturday, the day we completed the ride, Yoder said to expect heavy trail use, including Amish bike riders, joggers, dog walkers and families, and to look for the buffalo herd grazing between County Roads 35 and 37 as well as wildflowers in full bloom near County Road 43.
From the trailhead on CR 35, the Pumpkinvine runs straight as far as the eye can see under a canopy of trees and bordered by farms and fields. From this vantage point, it’s easy to imagine the trail’s original purpose as a railroad.
Constructed in 1888, the railroad was nicknamed “Pumpkinvine” for the numerous turns in the line from Goshen to Middlebury. These turns in the trail, though not abundant, are marked with signs and yellow center lines to keep traffic flowing safely.
The trail is often bordered by tree lines, making the ride — even on an 85 degree day — cool and pleasant. At this time in the season, the air is fragrant with apple trees growing alongside the trail, too.
Through downtown Middlebury, the trail crosses several streets, using stop signs and sidewalks. Within 15 minutes, however, the Pumpkinvine resumes as an asphalt trail through farms, flowers and trees, over creeks and past Amish schools all the way to Shipshewana.
Along the way are trailheads, a few with parking areas and restrooms. Parking is also available in Middlebury at Krider Gardens, town hall or along the downtown streets.
“We have (except for 1.7 miles) an off-road link between Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana that families and those shy about riding on the road can enjoy for transportation and recreation,” stated Yoder.
“It’s really very enjoyable.”
A grand opening, celebrating all the segments completed one at a time over the years, is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the American Legion in Middlebury. More information and trail maps can be found at pumpkinvine.org.
And from my view on the back of a bicycle? It’s a beautiful ride. Be sure to make time to pedal the Pumpkinvine soon.