Blueway trails project moving ahead

March 9th, 2016

News Coverage:

March 9, 2016

Blueway trails project moving ahead

Ellie Bogue | News-Sentinel

Kyle Quandt, principal planner and grant manager for Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council, has been making headway on Northeast Indiana Blueway Trails.

The waterway trails known as the Northeast Indiana Blueway Trails started small, just looking at the St. Joseph River, but the project has grown. They are currently looking at 118 established or potential sites. They would like to see a site every 10 river miles.

"Canoe trails are becoming more popular all over the nation. People are already out there using the rivers. So making access sites for them that are safe and include an educational aspect, it's just the perfect time, especially with everything else happening here in Fort Wayne." Quandt said last June.

Through an Arts United a crowd funding is currently running to pay for water trail maps and an interactive website. The goal is $5,000 in two weeks.

The maps will be two sided with historical information along with safety and stops.Amenities at each stop are listed as well as the parks along the river. The will have paper maps and water-proof maps made out of a lightweight plastic. The website will tell people if it is safe to be out on the rivers that day. Safe could mean the level of the water or water quality of the water.

"We are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to use," Quandt said.

Possibly like a traffic light for red, don't go, yellow caution and green go. The technology for this does exist, they just need the money to afford it.

There is a group of people working together now, including the family of the of Sean Hiebel, 24, who drowned last June, on putting up danger and warning signs for the dams. They have their plan and a quote for those signs and are hoping to get them posted this year Quandt said.

There is also a state group with DNR members, Homeland Security, US Geological Survey and academia who are working on a state standard for these signs. The group is known as the Silver Jackets. They have a FEMA grant and along with standardized hazard signage they will create a Public Service Announcement and a documentary. Quandt said because the project is using federal funds it is likely other states will be adopt the same standardized signs.

"We have been working with them to make sure that what we put up is the recommended state standard," Quandt said.

Eden Lamb of Fort Wayne Outfitters said over the past year or so there has been a big push for kayak fishing and a lot of people like to fish near the dams. But there are certain areas around the dams where it is just not safe to be boating, which is why it is so important to get these signs posted before another tragedy occurs.

"Our goal is to provide them with all the information they need to be safe while they are out on the rivers and we would like to provide them with ADA accessible launch sites for canoes and Kayaks," Quandt said. But they will be doing this by finding other people to take on the cost of the individual launch site development.

River Front Fort Wayne has been able to get a grant from the Anthony Wayne Services Foundation to make sure their site is above and beyond ADA requirements. They have looked into a site by the Old Fort. Quandt said she has talked to some communities along the river that are interested in putting launch sites but they are very expensive.

While they have been scouting good locations for these types of sites, it can cost from $30,000 to develop to $150,000 to put in an ADA accessible site. It all depends on the slope of the bank and where it is being put in.

June 11 they will be holding the 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union's Pedal, Paddle and Play event that will serve two purposes. It will be the official public release of Northeast Indiana Water trails, which is housed currently under NIRC and a fundraiser. The event will be held on the old Wells Street Bridge by Fort Wayne Outfitters. Lots of fun, family oriented activities are planned along with live music, food trucks, beer and wine. Organizations that are interested in promoting their agenda either environmental or water quality will have booths. Sport Wayne will be there with their zip lines and giant hamster balls.

To raise money people can participate for a $20.00 ticket, by riding along the greenway or paddling up the river to various stops that give educational information to participants about each area. Each stop gets them a stamp in their passport. Each stamp gets them an entry into a drawing for free prizes. They get a free tee-shirt and a dry bag with their entry and kids 15 and under are free to participate with an adult. The event will start at noon, all paddlers are due back by 4 p.m. Fort Wayne Outfitters will have some kayaks for rent but people should reserve them early to make sure they can get one.

Quandt said they won't make a lot of money but their main goal is to get people out on the river and learn more about what they can do, while showing the connections between the rivers, greenways and parks.

"People go up to Pigeon River all the time, but they don't realize they can do it here," Quandt said.

People's perceptions of the rivers is a big hurdle in the project. But Quandt said she has seen perceptions slowly changing. The rivers are brown because of the soil here, even though they are clean. People are asking less and less about the color and water quality as the idea settles in.