I found this article in the Washington Times Herald to offer a positive example of Amish and authorities working to solve a common problem – road damage cause by horses and buggies.

This is a breath of fresh air compared to the way similar conflicts seem to be addressed in some places.

The Amish in Daviess County, Indiana already pay $60 for buggy licenses to help cover the cost of road upkeep.

One year ago, Amish also agreed to use a new horseshoe, a design with a smaller cleat with the hope that it would reduce wear.

It hasn’t helped enough, unfortunately:

“The horses are still tearing up the roads,” said Daviess County Highway Supervisor Phil Cornelius. “It may still be the shoe or it might be the increased buggy traffic that is doing it.”

Officials say the success of the Amish community may be causing some of the road issues.

However, it seems there is a healthy appreciation for the Amish here – which coupled with Amish willingness to make reasonable adjustments, and contribute dollars to road upkeep, bodes well for solving this:

“The population continues to grow, and they have to get from point A to point B,” said President of the Daviess County Commissioners Nathan Gabhart. “They drive a lot of our economy. It’s a catch-22. If the roads were not taking a beating that means there is not much going on. We want to mitigate this as much as we can, but at the end of the day, whoever is causing the damage needs to pay for it.”

“We live in a growing Amish-Mennonite community,” added Cornelius. “It’s wonderful. It’s just with some of the blessings comes a curse as well and a curse for us is the trough (beating down of the pavement by the horses) the horses make in the road.”

Daviess County has gotten more asphalt roads in recent years. When I first got to know the Amish back in 2004, I spent 3 weeks in Arthur, Illinois, followed by 3 weeks in this community.

The big contrast I noticed between these similarly-sized settlements was the number of dirt roads in the Daviess County settlement.

While it seemed nearly every road in the Arthur community was paved, many in the Daviess County area were not. The layer of dust which coated the interior of my car over those weeks was plain proof of that.

One of the main recent investments has been rebuilding County Road 900 E, the main “Amish highway” traversing the settlement from north to south.

Dinky’s Auction Center, a popular spot for Amish and other locals. The center is reached by many via CR 900 E. Photo by Ken’s Kin/flickr

This road got buggy lanes with an experimental surface which, five years later, has apparently not proven any better than a normal road surface. At the least they can rule out that option as they consider others.

Perhaps Daviess County’s initiative will end up being a model for other Amish communities both in the state and beyond. Cornelius explains:

“Now that we have data showing the fix that INDOT and the federal highway suggested doesn’t work, hopefully they will be willing to let us use other mix designs on phase IV. There are around 12-14 counties in Indiana with Amish and we all have Amish communities and we all have issues with horse troughing. I know there are counties in Pennsylvania and Ohio with the same problems. I would like to see something done as a research project to figure out what the best mix design is to keep the troughs from coming in so quickly.”

There is an Amish Safety Committee working with local government, and the matter will be addressed again twice later this year. This is positive:

“We’re going to figure something out,” said Cornelius. “They are working with us. We are working with them. We get some more smart people involved. We’re going to come up with a solution. It’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

I found this report to present a nice counter to the frequent accounts of conflict between Amish and local authorities, which tend to get more attention by their nature.

All best to the Daviess County community in figuring this out in a way that works for everyone.

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