DARKE COUNTY – For the first time in its history the Light Foundation opened Chenoweth Trails, its 450-acre facility in Darke County, for an open house on Wednesday.
The Light Foundation is a non-profit that was founded in 2001 by Greenville native and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light. The foundation opened Chenoweth Trails to public use in 2009 when the Versailles Boy Scouts became the first outside group to utilize the facility.
Over the past eight years Chenoweth Trails has gone from a primitive site to one that now includes two yurts that can sleep 24 people, shower and bathroom facilities, an outdoor kitchen, a timber frame pavilion, an amphitheater that seats 100, a campfire area, a pond for fishing and swimming, 10 miles of trails, a turf field and other amenities.
“The cool thing about this is in a time where so many organizations are propped up on donations from the federal government or from big entities, we’ve been able to do this without a dime of funding through really any grants or anything from the federal government,” Light said. “This has all been people locally and beyond – and a lot from the Northeast, of course, where we raise a lot of money through events and things – but it’s come from the people. And so they believe in it, and in turn it makes a big impact because we treat it like it’s a very special thing that it is because we had to work for it. And that’s a great lesson that we teach our kids: If you’re given something it tends to just fall away, but if you work for something you’ll maintain it and keep it for a lifetime. And that’s what Chenoweth Trails is. It’s a labor of love, and we work for it, and in return we’ve got something that shines.”
Chenoweth Trails now serves more than 5,000 people annually. The Light Foundation uses it for its events including its youth wild turkey hunt, outdoor leadership camp and the Gauntlet Trail Run.
Other groups such as Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, 4-H, church youth groups, men’s ministry groups, FFA, parent-teach organizations, bands and cheerleaders have also used the facility. Schools have used it for staff development, field days, class rewards and special events, and it’s also been utilized for weddings, family reunions, church services, corporate events and other special occasions.
“That’s what it was intended to be – something for the community as well as serve our needs, and it’s doing that,” Light said.
More than 300 people attended the Light Foundation’s open house on Wednesday when they could eat supper, listen to musicians, explore the facility, participate in a scavenger hunt and talk to the Light Foundation staff.
“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time because we have this concept of Chenoweth Trails, which went from a very small, very intimate, just our programs to something much bigger,” Light said. “And so for all the people that are in the community and beyond that have been here, they come back and they say, ‘Well, you know, we have friends of ours that would love to see the facility. When could you ever do something? Is the only time you can come out here during a program?’ So for us this is a great way to showcase what Chenoweth Trails is all about, why we’re here, what we do to the people that haven’t been out for a program.”
When Chenoweth Trails was first created, Light said, he intended to keep it very primitive. However, he and his staff soon realized that in order to serve as many people as possible they needed to enhance the facilities.
“As we continued to grow and we had more people using the facility we realized that not everybody likes a port-a-john, not everybody can get around and not everything that is being done out here is possible for the long run,” the former New England Patriot left tackle said. “So we started adding little pieces here and there.”
The latest addition is a building at the entrance to the facility that will include offices, conference rooms, a welcome center and a shop – all of which will allow the Light Foundation to work more efficiently. The building should be completed by June 1.
“That new facility is really going to serve us well for the long run, and we’ve been able to make that investment because we’ve had great support,” Light said.
The Light Foundation and Chenoweth Trails are financially supported by the Gauntlet Trail Run, Celebrity Shootout, Super Bowl raffles, Fools Night Out, Sponsor a Camper CAMP-aign, sponsors and donations.
Chenoweth Trails will continue to grow, Light said, even though the Light Foundation only employs a couple full-time employees.
“I’ve got the best team on Earth,” Light said. “I went from one pretty decent one to one that’s now made up of Brian Rehmert and April Brubaker and Glenn Rehmert and Paul Rehmert and Mark Thwaits, and that’s the real heart and soul of our group here, and they’re the ones that make Chenoweth Trails possible. They organize and they coordinate everything. I come and go. I’m only here for a handful of days a year.”
Anyone who would like to find out more about Chenoweth Trails or is interested in using the facility should visit the Light Foundation’s website, www.mattlight72.com.
“If it works out in our schedule and it’s with kids and it’s something that can help benefit another organization with the use of this facility we’re all in,” Light said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.