NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It’s a bit of a Bethel College legend, how Jake Goering and the late Larry Voth met up on an early-morning walk years ago.
That was the beginning of Sand Creek Trail, about three miles of wood-chipped walkway in the southeast corner of the Bethel campus, which walkers (and their dogs), birders, runners, photographers and many others enjoy in all seasons.
As part of the annual National Trails Day® celebration June 6, the Sand Creek Trail (SCT) Committee honored Goering, 97, by unveiling a plaque now permanently attached to the SCT marker.
The plaque features a photo by North Newton photographer Vada Snider of Goering and his late wife on Sand Creek Trail, with the words “Dedicated to Jacob D.and Beth (Eldridge) Goeringin honor of Jake’s vision to develop the trailand inspire community membersto further enhance and enjoy it.”
Fred Goering (who proudly claims Jake Goering as a distant cousin) briefly recounted the history of Sand Creek Trail as it is today.
About 18 years ago, in 1997, Jake and Beth Goering retired to North Newton from Maryland. They missed trees – much more scarce on the Kansas prairie – but found some on the Bethel campus, where “Sand Creek and some forward thinking by ancestors had provided a good start,” Fred Goering said.
“One morning at about 5:30, Jake was walking and met up with then Bethel Director of Development Larry Voth. They talked about Jake’s dream of creating a trail along the Kidron-Martin Canal and Sand Creek.
“President Doug Penner also thought it was a good idea. Jake got some friends together, and they started hacking and chopping and cutting up dead wood and found a trail under all that brush.”
These days, Bethel maintenance and City of North Newton workers periodically put piles of wood chips donated by Westar Energy (from tree trimming) at different locations along the trail.
The SCT Committee and college and community volunteers under the direction of trail keeper Richard Rempel, North Newton, help keep the chips replenished on the trail and Memorial Grove maintained.
Features added since 1998 include 10 benches along the trail; Memorial Grove (created in 2003, also part of Jake Goering’s vision), which includes concrete benches, a gazebo, a fire pit and an area of memorial bricks; “The Plainsman,” an 11-foot-tall wooden sculpture created by North Newton artist John Gaeddert; Arbor Lane (planted in 2006), a double row of 54 trees of 18 species; and some elements of Bethel’s Discovery Adventure Course (built in 2010).
The trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2011. Since then, the SCT Committee has held a special Walk Sand Creek Trail Day on the first Saturday of June, National Trails Day®.
In 2012, the City of North Newton, with a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, built eight “pause points” along North Newton walking and biking trails. One of them is at the Memorial Grove trailhead for Sand Creek Trail and includes footprints in the cement – Jake Goering’s footprints.
Speaking at the plaque unveiling, Bethel College President Perry White said, “I’ve said this before, and Jake has heard me say it – he’s my hero.”
White told of first learning to know Goering in January 2012 when Goering joined White, his wife Dalene, Bethel Professor of Business Allison McFarland and 13 Bethel students for an interterm trip to China.
White remembered seeing Goering, then 94, “hike the Great Wall of China. One of the lessons I’ve learned from Jake and my mother-in-law is: Keep your legs strong.
“We appreciate this contribution to the campus and to our health. We thank you for your engagement with Bethel College.”
As Goering stood with the plaque, he said, “I’m speechless. I’m overwhelmed.”