July 16--MIDDLEBURY -- Middlebury's extensive trail system got a major shout-out Saturday as parks and trails enthusiasts from across the area gathered for the fifth-annual TrailsFest celebration and fundraiser.
Hosted by the Friends of the Middlebury Parks in cooperation with the Middlebury Parks Department, Saturday's festivities began with a ribbon cutting for the most recent addition to the town's extensive trail system, the Ridge Run Trail. The ribbon cutting took place at the covered bridge on the Das Dutchman Essenhaus campus, the official starting point for the new trail.
"This is a huge community affair," said John McKee, president of the Middlebury Park Board, speaking to the development and construction of the new trail Saturday afternoon. "We've got over 100 individuals, families, businesses and organizations who have helped make this happen. So it's a true community collaboration."
The Ridge Run Trail is a Middlebury community project led by the Friends of the Middlebury Parks in partnership with the Middlebury Parks Department, Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Middlebury Greencroft, Middlebury School Corp., Pretty Place Bed and Breakfast and dozens of other community supporters.
"The idea for this was put forward about three and a half years ago," said Dick Cook, president of the Friends of the Middlebury Parks. "We broke ground on April 14 of this year, and it was actually finished about a month ago, but we wanted to wait to officially unveil it so that we could do it during TrailsFest. It just seemed like the perfect time."
At approximately 1.5 miles long, the new asphalt multi-use trail connects the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail at the Middlebury side of the U.S. 20 tunnel and connects to the Essenhaus campus and the Middlebury schools campus.
Among those asked to share a few words about the impact of the new trail Saturday was Matt Crouch, deputy director of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, also known as OCRA.
"We hear the challenges that are facing Indiana as we look to succeed in the 21st century. Projects like this trail are the prefect example of this, and this is the reason why OCRA has invested in this kind of programming for more than five years," said Crouch, speaking to the economic and placemaking potential of projects such as the new Ridge Run Trail. "The thing I can say is that not every community is as fortunate as Middlebury, having the volunteerism that you have, working together... You should be proud of yourselves, because it's easy for a community to say, 'Well, we want to get a trail, we want to work together, and we'll raise some money and come up with a good idea'. That's the easy part. The hard part is going out there and sitting down at the table with maybe that person that you don't always agree with, and those other communities that you often compete against. It's working together and overcoming those kind of issues. And I think that's what is great about today, that you overcame those issues. So I can't say it enough. Middlebury is a fantastic community. Please keep up all the hard work."
Following the ribbon-cutting, attendees also got the chance to participate in the first-ever TrailsFest TrackDown, an adventure-filled scavenger hunt that took place along the Ridge Run, Pumpkinvine and Wayne Avenue trails.
During the event, which spanned about three miles beginning at the Essenhaus covered bridge, small teams of family and friends were asked to track down random landmarks and obscure objects, answer trivia, perform team challenges and get photo proof of it all to earn points and win cash and prizes.
"It's great because it involves teamwork, and being together, and you can kind of set your own pace. It doesn't have to be super competitive. The goal is really just to laugh, have fun together and enjoy the trails," said Rocki Stillson, a TrailsFest volunteer and curator of the scavenger hunt. "One of the best parts of this event is that it highlights some of the great assets in Middlebury. Honestly, there are such beautiful things to see and experience along the trails, so those things are on the scavenger list as well. So it's just a great way for the community to be able to highlight its assets while at the same time engaging people in a really fun way."
Cost to participate was $25 per team, with all proceeds going toward maintenance of the Middlebury trails system.
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