When Bethel College was established in 1887, Sand Creek existed east of the campus and a small stream (Kidron Creek) flowed south on the campus’ west edge to empty into Sand Creek near the city of Newton. To alleviate frequent flooding from Kidron Creek, a drainage canal, now known as the Kidron-Martin Canal, was dug in 1925 from a point near the present Kauffman Museum eastward past the campus to where it drains into Sand Creek.
For years, a rudimentary trail paralleling the canal on the north and Sand Creek on the west was used by residents of the community. A later extension of this walking path was to become Sand Creek Trail. Among the early habitués was Waldo Wedel, who in the 1920s explored the area for fossils and American Indian relics and later became a renowned archeologist and anthropologist.
In the 1930s, a federal effort to control soil and wind erosion resulted in a shelterbelt being planted along part of the canal, introducing new tree species such as cedars, pines, Osage orange, Kentucky coffee trees and Siberian elms. For many years, a small area between the campus and Sand Creek was used by the North Newton community as a campus dump. In 1974, this unsightly location was closed and Bethel students, under the direction of the Department of Biology, seeded the area with grasses and prairie flowers.
The trail took on new life in 1997 when North Newton resident Jacob Goering, then-Bethel College Director of Development Larry Voth and several area residents saw the possibilities of establishing an improved walking path. With approval of the Bethel College administration, led by then-President Doug Penner, and support of numerous dedicated volunteers (now the Sand Creek Trail Committee [SCTC]), the first clearing and serious development work began in 1998. The existing trail was widened and extended northward along Sand Creek, then westward parallel to a belt of Osage orange and other tree species to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States Distribution Center, to Highway K-15, then across the highway westward through a section of shelterbelt. At that point the trail joins a paved walkway in North Newton’s Chisholm Park. Later a northern loop was added by continuing the trail northward along Sand Creek to I-135, then west along the I-135 right-of-way fence, then southward along K-15 to the MCC building.
Continued application of wood chips in recent years has made Sand Creek Trail suitable for all-weather use by pedestrians. By mid-2001, nine benches, each memorializing specific individuals, had been installed along the trail. From its trailhead at Memorial Grove through the north loop paralleling I-135 and then back to Memorial Grove via Chisholm Park, the trail currently is in excess of three miles long.
In 2000, the Bethel College administration decided to discontinue the practice of memorial tree plantings around campus and instead support the creation of a memorial area where individuals could be memorialized. The SCTC agreed to take responsibility to create Memorial Grove on the site east of the main campus formerly known as the campus dump.
A retired architect and member of the SCTC provided a design for the area and awards for construction and landscaping were awarded on the basis of competitive bidding. Memorial Grove was formally dedicated on Alumni Day, May 24, 2003, with then-Bethel College President E. LaVerne Epp giving the dedicatory address. The first formally scheduled event at the Grove was an Easter Sunrise Service by Shalom Mennonite Church of Newton on April 20, 2003. Every August, the SCTC sponsors an annual watermelon feed for the campus and North Newton community at the site.
Arbor Lane, the double row of trees directly north of the MCC Center and on the east side of K-15, had its origin in late 2005 when the SCTC decided to change the nondescript roadside in this area into a thing of beauty. In early 2006, existing scrub trees along the roadway were removed with cooperation from Westar Energy, help from community volunteers and support from the City of North Newton in root removal and disposal of debris. The professionally prepared landscape plan called for the planting of 54 trees of 18 different varieties, all characterized by their diversity and adaptation to Kansas growing conditions. Planting was completed by mid-April 2006.