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Vicksburg Quilt Trail Has Become an Economic Engine

By Sue Moore

After six years of superhuman effort to build Vicksburg’s Quilt Trail into an economic engine for the community, Kitch and Hugh Rinehart have decided to call the trail complete and move on to new endeavors.

The two have pioneered this concept in Michigan as a team. Kitch is the artist in residence and Hugh the “go-to” guy to build the plywood quilts that adorn barns in South Kalamazoo County from Fulton to near Schoolcraft. Being a quilter inspired Kitch to undertake the project in its conception and execution. She and Hugh would ride their motorcycle throughout the area to select barns that met her requirements. They had to be well-kept, easy to view from the road, access from the road to pull off and take pictures, and the owners needed to want a quilt mounted on their barn for travelers to come by and see. Most said a hearty yes to hosting a barn quilt, Kitch said.

They freely gave of their time and talent over the intervening years, first to convince the barn owners that this was a good idea, and second, to let them choose a quilt design that had meaning to their family and complemented the barn. That consumed the first two years of development of the trail. The couple had help from friends who were like barn scouts and painting crews. They brought in an expert from Kentucky to help publicize the effort, which also required a brochure she designed and printed.

Expenses mounted so Kitch applied for a grant from the Vicksburg Foundation. They could only give through a 501c3 organization. Enter the Vicksburg Historical Society which was willing to take the project under its wing by setting aside a reserve account. This fund would handle the expenses for the trail and the income, if any.

It turns out there was some income, though not from curious travelers on the Trail. It came from the Rineharts’ willingness to put on talks about the Trail to service clubs and quilting organizations throughout Michigan. The donations collected from the free talks went into the Historical Society’s coffers to help buy more plywood, paint and rental equipment to install the quilts. There was plenty of demand from outsiders to learn how to make and paint a barn quilt. Kitch was soon teaching classes at the Vicksburg District Library and collecting fees from the participants, all of which went back into the Historical Society’s set aside fund.

The Rineharts decided to limit the trail to 24 barns and historic buildings two years ago. Now they are in the process of re-upping the initial five-year site agreements that were part of the original agreement. Once those are completed, Kitch will sign off on whatever funds are left in the account and donate them to the Society, she said.

The whole effort has provided a reason for people to travel to Vicksburg and the surrounding area. They shop in the village and especially take time to enjoy ice cream or even a lunch or dinner. The publicity it has garnered has snowballed. This month a feature story about the trail will appear in MIBlue Magazine out of Grand Rapids. The writer, Julie Williams, teaches English at Grand Valley State University and is a quilter herself. She actually toured the Trail on a very hot summer day when she didn’t want to sit at home in airconditioned comfort but also didn’t want to get outside in the 98-degree heat. So they came here from Fennville, just to drive on the tour, stop at Apple Knockers and then write an article about this “Little Engine that Could,” describing Kitch Rinehart. It will appear as part of the magazine’s travel and adventure features in their August issue.

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