River tours showcase potential, challenges of keeping 3 rivers in top shape

August 19th, 2015

News Coverage:

River tours showcase potential, challenges of keeping 3 rivers in top shape

By Jeff Neumeyer
August 19, 2015

FORT WAYNE Ind. (21ALIVE) --- The job of re-establishing Fort Waynes rivers as the centerpiece of the city will take more than investment to open businesses along the waterways.

It will take effort to keep them clean and healthy for visitors.

Wednesday morning, beneath the Bluffton Road Bridge near Foster Park, we boarded a pontoon piloted by Dan Wire with the Tri-State Watershed Alliance.

He took us on a tour of the Saint Mary's River.

Along the way, there were reminders of the flooding from earlier in the summer, like debris perched on a bridge pier, showing just how high the water got.

There is largely dense vegetation along the river banks, but contractors and other groups have to some degree thinned out the trees and bushes, a process that Wire calls "editing".

City leaders want to move forward with plans to develop a riverfront promenade between the Old Wells Street and Harrison Street Bridges, attracting people to shops and eateries.

But also in the works, is the mission of maintaining healthy green space on the banks for the riverfronts to thrive.

Shoreline conditions have been assessed, as part of a riparian management plan.

"That will tell us where can we edit out some vegetation, where do we remove the woody debris? But on the other side, where do we keep it, so we enhance not only the visitors experience, but we maintain that habitat for our wildlife because people will come and want to see that as well," Wire said.

On the foot bridge leading from Headwaters Park over to the Old Fort, you can see off in the distance some debris jammed up on the Saint Mary's River.

Issues like that will be better addressed in the near future with the help of the riparian management plan.

Those with a keen sensitivity about protecting the environment will play a key stewardship role along more than two miles of riverfront.

"We've done a marvelous job of bringing on board the professionals who know how to do this. We absolutely have no intention of going through and saying we're just going to cut all this down and call it done, that doesn't serve anybody," Wire said.

This same day, local business leaders hosted members of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation for a similar tour.

One of the messages that was delivered is that the rivers are much more than a flooding threat.

"Today is about seeing potential and believing that we can put money into this river and make it a great place to attract people from the city and from around the region to live and play," said John Sampson, with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

That stated goal is a lot easier to pursue, when you can maintain beauty found in nature on Fort Wayne’s three rivers.