SHAWANO (NBC 26) — When Jim Leunberger started the Shawano County Barn Quilt Project in 2010, his goal was to make 20 unique barn quilts.
“Our first full year we put up 96," he said. "And then in 2012, we put up another 87. So my estimate was a little bit off."
Now the 'Barn Quilt Capital of the Country,' Shawano County has 375 barn quilts and counting.
"My wife and I are doing this on a volunteer basis," said Leuenberger. "We don't get paid. Actually, we do get paid. When people thank us or shake our hand, or give us a hug, that's the best kind of payment we can get.”
Leunberger's goal was to bring excitement to barn owners all over the county.
“They are painting them or they're putting siding on them or they're improving their landscaping" he said. "So they're really taking even more pride in their landscaping and everything just because they have a barn quilt.”
No two quilts are the same either. Some barn owners opt for the traditional quilt patterns, selecting their favorite colors, while others get a little creative.
“The blue circle in the middle represents my bike tire," said Matty Mathison, describing her and her partner's barn quilt. "And the red spires represent the propellers on his airplane. And then the yellow kind of rays that go out is in honor of a former student I had that played volleyball for me, and she passed from cancer. And she was just a real light to everyone.”
Shawano County is holding its ninth annual 'Bike the Barn Quilts’ ride at the end of September. With five different routes, from a five mile one to 54 miles, it’s the perfect way to admire all the quilts, learn their stories and get some exercise, said Mathison, co-coordinator of the event.
“Barns are kind of a dying structure," she said. "And the fact that so many of them have been refurbished, and even the old ones. Just think of the history behind that and for people to recognize how important agriculture is to the state of Wisconsin.
The Bike the Barn Quilts ride is on Saturday September 25th. The $40 early bird registration is going on until tomorrow; after that, it’s $45 to register for the event. You can always drive around the county and see the quilts any time, and you can pick up maps at the Chamber of Commerce on Main Street.