River takes center stage

June 13th, 2016

News Coverage:

June 12, 2016

River takes center stage

Water Trails group raises awareness of possibilities

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | Journal Gazette

The first Pedal, Paddle and Play fundraiser for the recently formed Northeast Indiana Water Trails group Saturday brought canoers, kayakers, cyclists and others out in force to enjoy a day near and on the water.

And, organizers said, the event just east of the Wells Street Bridge also gave them a chance to educate area residents about new features planned or already placed to make Fort Wayne-area rivers a little easier to navigate.

Participants got a passport-styled flier guiding them to eight water- and land-based educational stations where experts informally talked about river ecology, riparian habitats, kayak fishing, water safety and other topics, said Kyle Quandt of Fort Wayne, program manager of the water trails group.

Also available for a $5 donation was one of the trails’ group’s first projects – a waterproof map of not only Fort Wayne’s rivers but also the entire western Lake Erie basin. The map shows put-in points, carry spots, dams and their proper portages, outfitters’ locations and even the amenities of parks along routes.

Quandt said the organization hopes to fund a real-time online site showing river depth data as well as weather and precipitation. About $10,000 will be needed for that project, she said, “because the data is expensive.”

“This is really the public launch of Northeast Indiana Water Trails,” she said, noting the group was launched in January 2015 as an initiative of the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council.

“Getting people interested in rivers and out on the river we hope will impact people’s perspective on the rivers and get them more interested in stewardship of the rivers and doing what they can to improve and protect them.”

Only limited funding is available for river trails at present, Quandt added.

Such efforts are needed, said Dan Wire, executive director of the Tri-State Watershed Alliance, as more visibility and use comes to urban waterways.

“A lot of people really don’t know the rivers,”  Wire said.

He spent much of the event on a pontoon boat discussing water safety, including new signs warning of low-head dams through the #damdangerous initiative.

Still, a party atmosphere prevailed along the St. Marys, with music – including the Dumpster Drummers, a percussion band made up of recycling bins and a rain barrel, and a zip line as cyclists stopped for a bite to eat or to refresh their beverages during 90-plus degree heat.  

Getting ready to go out in a canoe on Saturday, Martin Brandenberger, 52, of Fort Wayne, said he was having an early Father’s Day “bonding thing” with his son Aaron, 11, and Aaron’s friend Jacob McGee, 10.

While the family had spent time on area waters before, “We haven’t been on this part of the river,” Martin Brandenberger said.

He said he was surprised to find when arriving for the event that all the kayaks had been rented since Friday. The put-in spot, near Fort Wayne Outfitters at the restored Cass Street depot, is more popular than he expected.

“Now that we know, we’ll come back later (for a kayak),” he said. “It’s nice. We’ll definitely utilize this place.”