A one-of-a-kind floral display spread over six communities.
A 90-mile route connecting “Well Crafted” communities.
Either would be a feather in the cap of a tourism bureau. Elkhart County in Indiana offers both. In fact, group tours can come for the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail and stay for the Heritage Trail itself. Plus, visitors encounter friendly people and eat delicious food.
Sonya Nash, director of group and experiential sales and promotions at Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau, is getting lots of calls from tour operators whose groups are ready to travel and interested in conditions in the county.
“We’re here, we’re safe and we are open,” Nash said. “Come and explore.”
The American Bus Association has named Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail a Best of the Best event. The 16 quilt gardens are in six cities and towns located in one of the largest concentrations of Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities in the Western Hemisphere.
Each Quilt Garden is a garden planted with 7,000-plus plants in the shape of a quilt pattern.
A new garden location for this year — the 14th anniversary — is The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres.
Step-on guides lead groups through the communities while viewing 1 million blooms in vibrant color.
“We have some great new designs,” Nash said. “No pattern can be repeated for at least three years. It’s always a new experience.”
The Quilt Gardens are a true community labor of love, said Terry Mark, the bureau’s director of communications and public relations. Some 200 volunteers plan, plant, water, feed and weed the gardens each year. “There’s a lot of pride reflected in the gardens,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see.”
Quilt Gardens are outdoors and safety protocols are in place, Nash said. There’s no cost to visit the gardens.
Officially, the Quilt Gardens are viewable from May 31 to Sept. 15, although Mother Nature has the final say on the dates. Nash can let groups known which gardens are in and which are out. Some gardens are still viewable in late October.
Group tour exclusives include activities such as making a wooden quilt block and a quilting bee in an Amish home.
New for groups on the Heritage Trail is a step-on guide program. As the motorcoach rolls through the scenic countryside, the guide relates folklore, interesting facts and compelling stories about the region and its people.
Available with reservations are group tour exclusives like visiting a dairy farm or a one-room schoolhouse.
“Group experiences really come to life when the people interact with the Amish in their homes and businesses,” Nash said.
Tours can be customized to meet a group’s interests, time and budget.
The Meet the Makers Tour and the Brown Bag Tour are very popular with groups. Makers can range from furnituremakers to craft brewers to an Amish noodlemaker. In the Brown Bag Tour, groups go to a variety of one-of-a-kind shops to meet shop owners and receive goodies to drop in a special “Brown Bag.”
“Hearing those stories and meeting the people and riding on the bus and hearing things explained by a local guide — that’s a win for everybody,” Nash said.