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Canal boat offers up-close view of pre-developed riverfront

July 24th, 2017

By Lisa Esquivel Long | The News-Sentinel

Some residents see the brown water, scraggly trees along the riverbank and the occasional plastic bottle that floats by. For others, Fort Wayne's rivers are alive with wildlife, recreational opportunities and potential. 

Last month city officials broke ground on the riverfront Promenade Park, the first phase of the planned riverfront development. The park, along the St. Marys River between the Historic Wells Street Bridge and Harrison Street, will include a pavilion, plaza, children's play area, tree canopy trail, bandshell and docks.

As Fort Wayne moves forward with riverfront development plans, tourists on the canal boat Sweet Breeze, which started operating last month, can get a closeup view of the St. Marys and hear about what it will look like in a few years.

Dan Wire of Friends of the Rivers, the group that raised $600,000 to buy the boat, led a tour July 15 that focused both on history along the downtown section of the St. Marys as well as riverfront development plans. The boat itself, a replica of canal boats that transported people and animals together in the 1840s along the Wabash and Erie Canal, is part of local efforts to get people out on and enjoying the city's three rivers.

Among the highlights from July 15's tour that began at the boat dock at Headwaters Park West near the Harrison Street bridge:

  • One obstacle to river travel, huge logjams like the one gathered around the Ewing Street bridge, should be eliminated when a barge begins operating, Wire said. The barge will clear river debris like the large trees that get caught around bridges. 
  • Some things were put into the river intentionally. In the 1860s the city moved graves from the cemetery on Broadway that later became McCulloch Park to the recently opened Lindenwood Cemetery. Mausoleums were torn down and the stone was put into the river as a way of shoring up the banks, Wire said. Prominent names such as Ewing can be seen etched on the stones, he said.
  • Learning what once existed amid a stand of trees was surprising. Guldlin Park's playground, made possible through the City Beautiful Movement, was dedicated in 1911 but the Flood of 1913 wiped it out.
  • The city built a promenade in 1911 in the West Central neighborhood along Thieme Drive for residents to enjoy a view of the river.
  • The city's waterways are a connection that Native Americans made use of. Tacumwah of the Miami tribe operated a portage in the area along the St. Marys and Little River. 
  • Wildlife congregating on this day included a blue heron, Canada geese and ducks. Wire has seen a bald eagle, and of the 23 animal species on the river, including beavers, fox and deer, 60 percent are game fish, he said. 
  • When it comes to trees, tourists see less diversity. Mostly maple trees line the banks, but as part of the riverfront development some of those will be replaced with native sycamore and catalpa.
  • At Traders Point Park on Fourth Street the St. Marys meets Spy Run Creek and the boat goes past the union of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee to continues onto the Maumee. The tourists see a tree with the lower part of the base stripped away. Beaver will gnaw 2 feet up the tree, which deprives the tree of nutrients, killing it and forcing it to fall into the river, Wire explained. Just as the beaver planned.

 The boat returned along the same path, passing kayakers, party-goers on River City Venture's floating bar and Mike Gasdorf in his airboat, available for tours.

Categories Quality of Life