Tri-State Watershed Alliance’s new home will be a focal point for river and conservation education
The organization works to improve the health of the Maumee River watershed.
By Kevin Kilbane | News-Sentinel
An old downtown gas station will get a new life as a hub for efforts to educate people about local rivers and how to conserve them and their water quality.
The Tri-State Watershed Alliance has signed a four-year lease for use of the building at 425 Van Buren St., at the corner of Van Buren and Superior streets, said Dan Wire, the alliance’s executive director.
Wire envisions the site becoming a focal point for a wide range of river and conservation education programs and activities related to the Maumee River watershed. The watershed includes all of the streams that feed into the Maumee River, including the St. Marys and St. Joseph rivers and their tributaries.
“We are just super excited,” he said.
The alliance hasn't had an office previously, so Wire had to do some work from home. The nonprofit organization works with landowners, farmers, businesses, governments and conservation groups in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to sustain healthy watersheds that support strong communities and economies through improved water quality and increased recreational and business opportunities.
Wire, with the help of numerous donors and volunteers, has started minor renovations on the building, which was a Standard Oil station in the mid-1940s and later became a used car lot and a property management company office.
They removed the hydraulic car lift in the building’s service bay. Last week, they ripped up 60 percent of the asphalt parking lot and replaced it with biosolids and topsoil from a local composting facility.
The soil area will be transformed this spring into a demonstration plot featuring native plants, rain-permeable pavers and other watershed best-management practices, Wire said. The alliance will turn the garage into a science center by replacing the current garage door with a clear door and by installing new, larger windows instead of the small ones now in the garage walls.
The building’s location in the flood plain prevents the watershed alliance investing a lot of money in remodeling, Wire said. But that’s OK, because the alliance plans to spend much of its time providing educational programs on the outside of the building, including using nearby Guldlin Park along the St. Marys River.
To develop and provide the programming, the alliance will collaborate with other local groups working on river conservation and education, Wire said. He hopes that includes the Environmental Resources Center (ERC) at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW).
ERC Director Bruce Kingsbury has proposed building an environmental education center along the St. Marys River as part of Fort Wayne’s riverfront development efforts.
The watershed alliance’s new location will give ERC staff a chance to try out some of their programming and plans, Wire said. If it “feels good” after a few years, the watershed alliance and ERC may be able to cooperate on constructing a new building on the site that is elevated 6 feet higher, which would remove it from the flood plain, he said.
Wire also plans to involve farmers and agricultural businesses in explaining their efforts to improve water quality in the watershed.
“We want to have town and country get back together again,” Wire said. “If we can’t bring them to the country, we’ll bring the country to them.”