Fall color tour with a twist

Pigeon Quilt Trail offers an added attraction to autumn
Photo courtesy of Pigeon River Quilt Trail.

Michigan is a beautiful place to get your fall fix during the height of leaf peeping season. While you’re out taking in vibrant hues of orange, crimson, and gold, enjoy some of autumn’s color from the comfort of your car, and be sure to take in a little extra…

Dozens of quilt squares have bloomed on barns, homes, and outbuildings in Olive Township over the past decade. Most can be tracked back to Kit and Sandy Karsten’s henhouse — and a trip to Pennsylvania.

“We went out to Amish country to enjoy their quilts,” Sandy Karsten explains. “They were in flower form, like gardens, and they also had some on buildings. That was the catalyst for our thinking that we could bring this back to Olive Township.”

Two of her friends already had quilt squares on buildings of their own. The Karstens decided to join in. They started with their chicken coop; Sandy painted a “hens and chicks” quilt square on wood and they nailed it up. Next, a “patriotic pride” quilt block went up on the utility shed — the flag motif in honor of 13 family members who’ve served in the military from World War I till now.

The retired teachers have deep agricultural roots and a bent for history. He’s the president of the Olive Township Historical Society; she’s vice president. Their home has been in her family for nearly 100 years.

In Amish country, they’d enjoyed “quilt trails” — backroad driving tours detailed in flyers with maps, so visitors can find Amish barns painted with hex signs (a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art) and with quilt patterns that are a more recent tradition.

“We decided to make the Pigeon River Quilt Trail an actual place for people to visit,” Karsten says.

Starting in 2015, through word of mouth and notices in the Historical Society newsletter, they invited others in town to decorate their homes and outbuildings, too, to celebrate Olive Township’s agricultural traditions, community pride, and hospitality.

The Karstens’ neighbors around the corner got onboard. Ron and Sally Hosley put up a “tree of life” square. On the other side of the street, when Neil and Elaine Jacobsen’s 60th anniversary rolled around, their children gave them a “pinwheel in the round” quilt block, which is mounted on their 100-year-old barn.

A “tulips and crosses” block adorns Ottawa Reformed Church. A “mariner’s compass” square, a colorful pattern created by the Amish in Shipsewana, Indiana, decorates the barn at the Zeinstra farm. On Rog and Karen Headley’s, a “friendship star” square is dedicated to Karen’s grandmother, Tena VanderKooi Bartels, who poured hours and hours into creating beautiful quilts for family and friends.

Olive Township’s municipal website makes it easy for anyone to drive by and enjoy them. The quilt trail’s web pages include two photo galleries (one of patterns, the other of the structures), a bit of information about each one, and links to a Google map of all of them. As of mid-summer, there were 44, with two more households poised to join.

A few are near the Pigeon River in Blendon and Robinson Townships, but about 90% are in Olive Township. (Some addresses read “Zeeland,” “Holland,” or “West Olive,” but that’s just because the post office assigns those town names to street addresses in Olive Township, which no longer has a post office.)

The Karstens are so enthusiastic about the project that Sandy has painted quilt blocks on wood panels for some other Olive residents, for free. All they needed to do was mount them on their home, barn, or other building.

They’re also enthusiastic about having people come see theirs. At some homes, a drive-by does the trick. But the Karstens’ quilt squares are on buildings hard to see from the street, so they invite visitors to walk back to take a look. “We’ve had people walking down our driveway. We go out and talk with them,” Kit says. “It’s a nice way to meet people,” Sandy adds.


Quilt trails elsewhere in Michigan are detailed online, too. Find links to some of them at

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