By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NORTH NEWTON—Delicate honeysuckle flowers give way to bright red berries throughout the year at Sand Creek Trail in North Newton.
Tending to those and other plants along the trail and the trail itself since April 2009 has been Richard Rempel, who was trail manager. He turned the reins over to Keith Harder, current trail manager who started July 1. Rempel still is going to volunteer, however.
“In 2008, Jake Goering tapped me on the shoulder and recruited me for this job and recently I tapped Keith on the shoulder and recruited him for this job,” Rempel said.
The trail manager’s duties are many. They include overseeing the moving of wood chips, clearing and reinforcing trail sides, keeping planted trees and bushes healthy, caring for the Plainsman statue, emptying trash receptacles and scheduling and planning workdays with the Sand Creek Trail Committee, which oversees the trail in collaboration with the city of North Newton.
“I think it’s trying to maintain the trail and keeping it clean of falling trees,” Harder said about the job. “I really admire the tree-planting effort and [plan to] keep things going.”
Rempel wanted to retire for one reason.
“I’m getting old,” he said. “It was hurting my back too much. My 81st birthday is coming in a month and a half.”
Rempel took the job over from Gerry Sieber, whose idea for what the trail was about was providing cross country a place to run, Rempel said. Sieber had various side trails, as well.
“I don’t maintain those anymore,” Rempel said, adding those side trails are across the creek. “Instead, I did some moving over some parts of the trail as the result of the oxbow over there.”
The oxbow is where the creek bends toward the trail. Rempel said he moved one part of the trail in 2013 and another part after flooding in 2019.
“Since that time, tree planting has been a big part of it,” Rempel said, adding the 25th anniversary of the Sand Creek Trail creation is coming up, as it was established in 1998.
Since that time and under the sponsorship of the Sand Creek Trail Committee, about 250 trees have been planted there. Half of those were planted under Rempel. His plantings have been on the oxbow and the north end where the cross country course is located.
In addition to planting trees, they’ve also removed invasive trees, like Siberian Elm.
Since he started, Harder’s been doing that with the likes of Siberian Elms and Bradford Pears.
“Just a variety of invasive trees that compete with the trees that have been planted—oak and walnut especially,” Harder said.
There are a lot of trees on and near the path.
“I have counted 45 varieties of trees along the trail and 18 varieties of shrubs,” Rempel said. “A lot of them have been planted by the committee. Arbor Lane is really nice.”
Arbor Lane is along Kansas Highway 15, put in in 2006.
Harder isn’t a stranger to walking paths.
“My wife and I moved to Kidron Village a year ago and have walked the trail a lot,” he said. “When Richard asked me to do this, I said, ‘Sure, I might as well make myself useful.”
Harder and his wife have walked various trails in the world, like sections of the Appalachian Trail, the KATY Trail in Missouri and the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. They enjoy it.
“As he works through the years, he’ll probably develop new goals for the trail,” Rempel said about Harder.
Harder likes the idea of a marked path, but he also likes a certain wilderness to it.
Rempel estimated there are 20,000-25,000 people visits to the trail per year, adding it picked up during the more isolated portion of the pandemic.
The trail season generally goes through April to the end of November to December, Rempel said, adding he used to walk the trail to see if it was safe and walkable. The distance is a little under two miles following the whole trail and returning.
“I’ve just been struck by the variety of people walking the trail,” Harder said. “There’s young people, families, students, a lot of people walking their dogs.”
There’s also one lady with white hair who has a black dog who walks the trail every morning, Rempel said.
In addition to being enjoyed by locals, the trail is a National Recreation Trail.
“I put in a request to the Interior Department in 2011, and they recognize it as a national trail,” Rempel said.