GREENSBURG — The Duke Energy Foundation recently awarded the Decatur County Community Foundation a $25,000 grant to help finish a memorial walking trail that includes learning and STEAM stations. The funds will be used to purchase trees native to Indiana as well as items for a weather and music station.
DCCF Executive Director Tami Wenning said her organization simply acted as the fiscal representative for the grant, noting that Staci Schutte used the Foundation’s 501c3 designation and that those involved agreed to run it through the DCCF as a community project.
The trail is in memory of Travis Wenning, the son of Nick and Julie Wenning. Travis lost his fight with cancer at the age of 6, just a little over two years ago.
Many people in the community helped do fundraisers during Travis’s fight. His parents wanted to do something to give back to the community, so they used what they refer to as “Travis’s money” to start the trail. It is intended to be a walking trail with various educational components.
Nick Wenning came up with the idea of creating an outdoor lab that, from the air, looks like the cancer ribbons frequently used to depict the various types of cancer.
According to Schutte, the trail is .6 miles long and runs along the south perimeter of St. Mary’s Parish campus. It is mainly gravel with a concrete section leading from the parking lot to the outdoor classroom area.
“We made this section concrete because we wanted all students to be able to access the outdoor classroom, even if a student were to be on crutches or in a wheelchair,” she said.
Schutte said after the Wennings expressed an interest in creating a trail in their son’s memory, a group of teachers, St. Mary’s Principal Mrs. Buening, and the Wennings sat down and brainstormed ways to use the funds. That is when the trail idea was born.
“Travis loved being outdoors, so what better way to see his legacy live on than to establish an outdoor classroom and trail where his friends and schoolmates could bring their learning outdoors,” Schutte said.
The trail has also benefited from sponsorships and funding from several donors including Napoleon State Bank, Decatur County Tourism, Premier Companies, St. Mary’s Alumni & Friends Association, Decatur County Soil & Water, Pioneer/H2, Psi Iota Xi, New Point Stone Quarry, Raver Concrete, and a few anonymous donors.
There are still opportunities to help fund this project; anyone with an interest in donating may do so via the Decatur County Community Foundation.
Schutte said there have been several involved in the planning and installation of the trail. The Trail Committee consists of Nick and Julie Wenning, Ben and Staci Schutte, Nancy Buening, Brad Fox, Matt Slaven, Sarah Rohls, Brittany Welsh, Mandy Bedel, Stephanie Kress, Bryan Robbins and Bob Johannigman.
“These people were the first set of eyes on the project, gathering prices, ideas, and brainstorming ways to use the trail,” she said. “During trail installation, many local contractors brought their machines and donated their time and equipment including Andy Schwering from Schwering Excavating, Rob DeHoff from Schwering Excavating, Ted Meyer of Meyer Solutions, Mike Swango, Roger Wenning from Wenning Excavating, Nick and Julie Wenning from Wenning Excavating, Mike Muckerheide from Muckerheide Excavating, Doug Volk, Marita Field from Wenning Excavating, and Bob Johannigman from Johannigman Excavating.”
The trail itself is complete with a finish layer of gravel to come in the spring after the trail has had a chance to settle through winter. The outdoor classroom is also finished.
“We will place an overhead shelter above the outdoor classroom at a later date,” Schutte said. “The equipment and things we are purchasing with the Duke Energy grant will be arriving in November and, weather permitting, we will place those items yet this year. Otherwise, we will place them in the spring when weather permits. With the Duke Energy grant, we are getting five benches to place along the trail, a weather station, and outdoor musical drums and piano. We’re also purchasing some trees native to Indiana to place along the trail for students to research Indiana trees.”
Schutte said that ultimately this trail is to let a little boy’s life that was cut short live on in the people that use and enjoy the trail.
“We want Travis’s name to be associated with living life to the fullest, being in God’s creation, and enjoying the outdoors. This trail will mean so much to the school and parish of St. Mary’s. I know the trail has already been used daily by the classes at St. Mary’s taking a walk, having a lesson, and exploring outside. It is also open to the public during non-school hours. This really is an asset to the community as a whole. Everyone is welcome to enjoy Travis’s Trail,” she said.
Schutte also thanked Tami Wenning and the Decatur County Community Foundation for partnering on this project and securing the grant.
The local grant was one of 19 such gifts Duke made that totaled $235,000.