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August 4, 2013

Points of interest along the Wabash: Small northern Indiana towns display Wabash front-and-center

BLUFFTON — A quest to see the white limestone bedrock that gave the Wabash River its name requires tenacity.

The Miami Native American tribe labeled the waterway “waapaashiki,” meaning “water over white stones,” describing the clear river they witnessed in its upper reaches in northern Indiana. Their moniker morphed to “Ouabache” by French fur traders to the pioneers’ Anglicized “Wabash.” The river water appeared clearer in those Native Americans’ days than now, thanks to a murky tint from sediment and nutrients.

Still, those limestone rocks — darker in 2013 — are visible in places along the stretch of the Wabash from the Ohio state line to the town of Wabash, Ind.

One accessible view of the “waapaashiki” stones occurs at the base of Huntington Dam, just three miles from the northern-most point of the river. Also at Huntington, the river bed can be seen under the Indiana 9 bridge at the Forks of the Wabash Historic Park, where the Little River flows into the Wabash. Other northern points, such as Vera Cruz or Ouabache State Park in Wells County, offer no glimpses of the river bottom.

Communities in that region give visitors ideal opportunities to see the stream. Bluffton’s pedestrian bridge, greenway trail, and riverside arts park and amphitheater use the Wabash as a visual backdrop. The serpentine stone walkway stretching from the Arts, Commerce and Visitors Centre to the riverfront is distinct among Wabash River towns.

In the town of Wabash, the Honeywell Center draws international-caliber artists and fans from multiple states to a modern auditorium, adorned with outdoor fountains and sculptures, and equipped with a rollerskating rink in the basement. The downtown blends historic buildings with newer amenities, and trellised arches above alley ways.

At Peru, the paved Nickel Plate Trail crosses the Wabash on its 13-mile stretch through the wilderness. In other Upper Wabash locales, such as Markle, the river makes its presence known with only subtle embellishment.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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