The very rural 22-mile Panhandle Pathway out of Winamac is now a national trail. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced in October that the paved trail now joins more than 83,000 miles of routes for paddling, cycling, hiking and other activities in what’s called the National Trails System — more than 1,300 trails in all.
It joins the Kankakee River National Water Trail, which gained its status in 2016 after volunteers spent eight years marking and mapping 133 miles of the river and then pulling in dozens of letters of support from cities, parks, industry, conservation groups and others — ultimately to improve awareness, safety, access and conservation of the Kankakee.
The Panhandle also joins the lesser-known Witmer Trace Nature Trail inside of Ox Bow County Park near Elkhart, 1.1 miles of dirt and boardwalk that was designated back in 1983.
The status comes without money or staff. It doesn’t make the path a national park. And most trails aren’t in the database, including significant ones. The difference? Someone had to seek out the status.
Tom Anspach, a founding and former member of the board that created the Panhandle Pathway, started to file paperwork a year ago as current board members sought an extra tool to finally connect the path to two big parks at both ends.
Tippecanoe River State Park is just 5 miles from the northern terminus, and the expansive France County Park is a mere three-quarters of a mile away from the southern tip. Both have camping, trails and water to make for several days of adventures that, if connected, could make the staff of a visitors bureau drool.
“People are calling and wanting to camp at France Park and then ride the trail, but it (the on-road connection) is kind of dangerous,” Anspach says.
But the board has faced persistent hurdles in building a link to either park, with a railroad at the south that has had the railroad’s owners worried about safety and with private landowners at both ends.
For the national status, Anspach filled out forms and needed just three letters of support because the friends group already owns the trail itself.
He and Board President Tom Bawcum say it’s too soon to know if the new status will soften the way forward, though it may add to the number of out-of-town visitors that already have been growing. As I’d reported Sept. 2, a new 29-mile marked bike route on rural roads now links the Panhandle to the 37-mile Nickel Plate Trail between Rochester and Peru.
• Trail finders: The Pathway Panhandle starts at an old train depot at Main and Logan streets in Winamac (panhandlepathway.org). It’s among 1,275 miles of trail added this fall to the national trail system. Find a map of all of the “national recreation trails” at www.nrtdatabase.org. Find other kinds of trails in the national system at nps.gov/subjects/nationaltrailssystem.
Extreme skiing at your house
The annual Warren Miller film — that motivator and launcher of the winter ski season — has always been a cozy social experience each November when snow nuts gather at a Michiana theater to watch and also to schmooze in the lobby with outfitters and ski resort reps.
This year, you’ll need to set up your own theater and lobby. The 71st annual documentary — it’s a new film every year — will only be streamed on the internet as it’s released over the next three weekends, per the coronavirus. No theaters. It comes at a price that you may want to split with housemates or masked guests: $30 for up to four people.
The usual on-site drawings, giveaways and SWAG from regional resorts will be replaced by promotions keyed into a third of the U.S. for each weekend: first the eastern U.S. this weekend, then central U.S. (including Indiana and Michigan) after that and, finally, the West. If you don’t care about the promos and giveaways, you can watch the film any weekend.
“Future Retro,” as this one is titled, brings back narrator and 1998 Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley to guide us through a typical mind-blowing array of extreme scenes by athletes in the world’s best snow, with plenty of music to amp the vibe. New this year, it begins with an hour of bonus content prior to the film, including behind-the-scenes clips and interviews.
A press release touts progressive young female skiers Lexi duPont and Amie Engerbretson as they visit Switzerland’s “deeply rooted ski culture.” Freeskiers Baker Boyd and Victor Major use a 1,300-year-old farm as their base camp as they hit peaks in Iceland.
Three snowboarders, Elena Hight, Danny Davis and Nick Russell, travel to Antarctica to see the impact of climate change. And skiers Scot Schmidt and the Egan brothers show how they spurred the extreme-skiing movement of the 1980s and 1990s, while the next generation of skiers and riders show how they push beyond the norm.
The live releases will start at 7 p.m. Saturday for the East Coast, at 8 p.m. Nov. 14 for the central U.S. (including us) and at 9 p.m. Nov. 21 for the West Coast. You can stream the film or watch it again on the same device anytime up to 11:59 p.m. on the following Monday.
Elect your fun
• Galien hike: The Harbor Country Hikers will lead a hike at 10 a.m. Saturday at Galien River County Park, 17424 Red Arrow Highway, New Buffalo, where they’ll check out the tree-top observation platform, marsh boardwalk and upland ridge trail. Face masks are required.
• Twisted Run: Join an orienteering race Saturday at Centennial Park, 1660 N. Michigan St., Plymouth. You get a map and choose the best way to walk or run to checkpoints, be it on trails, roads, grass or through the woods. There will be options of roughly 4K or 8K, but distance really depends on how you pick your route. Cost in advance, via a link in this column online, is $25 for adults, $15 for ages 13-18, $5 for ages 7-12 and free for ages 0-6. On-site cost is $30 per adult. It opens at 9 a.m., with a pre-race meeting at 10:30 a.m., then a mass start at 11 a.m.
• Tail Waggin’ Hayride: Bring your dog on a 6-foot leash for a free hayride from 2-4 p.m. Sunday at Bendix Woods County Park, 56960 Timothy Road, New Carlisle. Bring pet-related donations for Pets Connect! Face masks will be required on hayrides and when six feet of distance isn’t possible.
• Mushing 101: The Heartland Mushers Association, based in northern Indiana, returns with this 2-hour crash course for anyone who wants to bring their pooches (up to two per human) and see if they can mush. It will be at 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Benton Dam at River Preserve County Park south of Goshen. The course will use bikes and wheeled rigs made for dryland training. Face masks are required. Cost is $15. Limited to 12 human participants. Register by Nov. 13 in a link in this column online.
• Dunes closure: Central Avenue, just west of Michigan City in the Indiana Dunes National Park, is closed between U.S. 12 and the Lake Michigan beach until a project finishes Dec. 24 to replenish beach sand that had eroded. Large trucks are using the road for the project, financed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
• Free for veterans, families: Starting on Veterans Day next Wednesday and going forth, U.S. military veterans and Gold Star Families will gain free access to all national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands. Veterans will need to present a form of veteran ID or a state driver’s license or ID card with a veterans designation. Gold Star Families are next of kin to a U.S. service member who died while in a war or a “qualifying situation,” such as a terrorist attack.
• Fifth graders free, too: Many fourth graders missed out on using the annual program that provides them free passes to national parks this past year, thanks to the pandemic. So the federal government is now offering free admission to national parks for fifth graders and their families through Aug. 31, 2021, too. Download the pass at www.nps.gov/kids.