Get educated with free riverfront tours
May 27, 2016
Get educated with free riverfront tours
Fort Wayne and its surrounding regions weren’t considered “flyover country” until we could actually fly over it, tour guide Matt Jones says.
As the hub of three rivers, Fort Wayne was a major crossroad for the historical characters who landed on the riverfront. This summer and fall, Jones will share their stories with passengers on Riverfront Fort Wayne’s Historic Boat Tours.
“I see (Fort Wayne) through the lens of history,” Jones says. “Basically, it offers a perspective that gives us more depth and breadth to the formation of this community as we know it now. More often than not, this whole region is referred to as ‘flyover country,’ and indeed, with any investigation, you start seeing how that really wasn’t the case until we were actually able to fly over it. This was very much so the center of a lot of history.”
The Historic Boat Tours, hosted by Riverfront Fort Wayne, is a new program inspired by the boat tours offered through the Three Rivers Festival. This year, Alison Gerardot, director of programming and events, says the event is striking out on its own for a series of different topics almost every other Sunday. The tours will be free.
“I think people want to see Fort Wayne from a different vantage point,” Gerardot says. “So many people have lived here their entire lives and have never been out on the river by boat, and it’s a completely different view of Fort Wayne. It really does make you feel like you’re in a different city.”
Jones will cover the more notorious reputation of Fort Wayne – and the city’s redemption – in “The Wickedest City in the West: Rivers, Canals and Railroads.”
“As an early city, we had quite the scandalous reputation amongst the Easterners, and with that reputation, it brought about many different developments,” he says. “But because we were a major crossroad – and a lot of western development ran on the roads, the rivers, the canals – the taverns and the entertainment accompanied those sort of things.”
Jones started out as a tour guide for Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. He also was a guide for ARCH’s Heritage Trail tour and, then for pontoon rides from The Deck at Hall’s Old Gas House.
Gerardot says with Jones being a longtime city tour guide and having knowledge of the rivers via his day job at Allen County Partnership for Water Quality, he was a “perfect match” for the tours.
“In his job, he does water education, so he has a deep knowledge about water quality as well as Fort Wayne and regional history, and that is something that I really wanted to offer,” Gerardot says.
Water quality of the rivers is one of the main misconceptions Riverfront Fort Wayne is still trying to overcome, Gerardot says.
She says that, yes, the rivers are not the healthiest they could be, but there are a lot of entities working to make it better. And no, the rivers will never be blue, but the brown color is only an indicator of the type of sediments that make up the river bed.
“I think all of the boat tours are all working in conjunction with one another to really complement each other. We’re all working toward the same goal of the more people we get out on the rivers by boat, the more they will change their minds about the river and what it can offer,” she says.
With the community refocusing on the rivers, Jones believes that the restoration and the engagement of the riverfront can actually spur innovation and economy with a sustainable aspect.
“Because they are grounded in the local resources, they cannot be removed, they will not go away and they cannot be outsourced,” he says.
If you go
What: Historic Boat Tours with guide Matt Jones
When: 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 15; tours happen almost every other Sunday
Where: Headwaters Park West Dock, South Clinton Street
Admission: Free; 10 riders per tour; must register with Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation at www.fortwayneparks.org under online services and click “class registration”; scroll down to “adult program/trips” and click “special event”