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November 14, 2007

A sheep shearer's journey down the Holmes County Trail

Holmes County locals had a really nice idea a few years ago--to convert an old train bed into a multi-purpose pedestrian and horse trail.

The Holmes County Trail was the result.  The paved part actually stretches from Wayne County--Fredericksburg--around ten miles down to Millersburg, the Holmes County seat.  It continues on in both directions unpaved.  Motorized vehicular traffic is banned.

Local Amish consulted on construction of the trail, with the result being a very accomodating design--half of the trail covered in a smoother asphalt, allowing bikers and walkers an easier ride, with the other side a rougher 'chip-and-seal' surface, easier for horses' hooves to grip.

Heading back to Fredericksburg from Millersburg on a September bike ride, I bumped into a friendly Swartzentruber fella clunking along on a return trip from all the way down in Knox County, which borders Holmes to the southwest.  He had already been on the road around eight hours that day, with a pit-stop at the Millersburg Wal-Mart.

'Isaac' is a sheep-shearer, and fairly well-known in the community.  Some of my New Order Amish friends were familiar with him when I brought him up the next day. 

Isaac is apparently quite a mean shear and a good deal to boot and seems to be frequently in demand.  On this particular outing he had spent a couple days at the sheep farmer's home while completing the job, as is his typical custom.  Swartzentruber Amish are only allowed to hire cars in dire circumstances.  So for jobs like the one that Isaac was on, he has no other choice but to hitch up and hit it.

Isaac had stopped by the side of the road and was in the process of lighting his oil lamps to hang on the sides of his open rig.    Dusk was fast approaching and the heavily shaded trail had grown dim. Swartzentruber Amish are among the few groups that will not use battery-powered lights on their transportation.

Isaac and I chatted awhile before I handed him a switch he'd dropped and we headed on down the road.  The impending dusk had us both thinking about home.
Seems I would be getting there a lot sooner.  I estimated Isaac had at least another two hours of travel to reach his final destination in Wayne County.  I wonder how he passed the time on the way, or how anyone on such a long journey would, with no radio or companion to chat with.  I suppose things like thinking and praying would be popular activities for lone riders. 

Just you, the horse, and the open road.  Must take some getting used to.


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In September 2003 I rode to Holmes County and ran into someone at our campground who said he was on some commission for making bike trails like this -- for bicycles and buggies. I didn't feel like arguing, but I didn't like the idea at all. But if the Amish people there think it was a good expenditure of funds compared to other ways of improving transportation, maybe I would change my mind. I've talked about this online with other bicycle tourers -- maybe I'll dredge up my old comments and put them in my blog.

It seems to be a pretty useful trail for a number of the Amish, at least those that are within buggying distance...quite a few use it for trips to Millersburg...I don't know about the cost/benefit analysis, I wonder what else the money could have been used for...any ideas?

I'll blog about it -- but in brief the alternate would be to use the money to improve shoulders on existing roads to make them buggy friendly (and bicycle friendly). Some of the roads in Holmes County do have very wide shoulders to accommodate buggies (and bicycles). They also seemed to be in need of some maintenance when I was there, though maybe that would be more for the benefit of bicyclers than buggies.

I see what you mean...I'm guessing they saw a rare opportunity in this old train bed to make a motor-vehicle free thoroughfare and they jumped on it...one that would actually be quite functional in a practical manner--not just a recreational track you'd find in a city park that goes nowhere but one that actually gives them an otherwise unheard-of chance to completely get away from cars while in the buggy, and which can actually take them to places they need to go. If I were Amish and in the vicinity I think I would back this 100%--it must get pretty old dealing with automotive traffic while riding in a vehicle that could basically be obliterated at any moment by a careless driver (as I'm sure you know pretty well being on the bike as much as you are!).

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