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December 30, 2012

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Hoosiers reflect on passions for Wabash River

TERRE HAUTE — About once every month I leave Terre Haute to head to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for a meeting. The crossing that takes less than a minute is the closest I come to the Wabash River each month. Meanwhile 70-year-old Hillsdale resident Larry Southard considers himself a river rat. He spends his free time enjoying what nature has to offer. During his life, he has seen the Wabash through good times and bad.

“I think the river is cleaner now than it was then. Back then, if you didn’t know what to do with something you would throw it in the river. It didn’t make much difference what it was, trash or liquids,” Southard said.

He says it didn’t matter if it was a farmer or a business owner, no one worried about runoff from their field or business. On top of that, back then everybody’s sewer ran off into the river.

“Nobody understood pollution, there were no pollution laws or regulations back in that point and time,” Southard said.

Southard says the river is clearer now than it has been for probably 30 years. Yet, there seems to still be a negative stigma about the quality of the river.

“People listen to a lot of stuff, and they won’t go read and educate themselves, they won’t study, they won’t ask questions. They repeat what their dad or somebody that they know told them, saying ‘the river is contaminated and I wouldn’t be caught dead in it’. I wouldn’t be afraid of the fish in there. There are some pretty good bass in there,” Southard said.

Why others care about the River

• “I care about the river because it’s essential to life; not just the life of human beings, but essential to the life of all creation. Without it, and more specifically, without its clean water life it is a great peril. So, we need to make every effort to clean it up, keep it clean and treat it with respect,” Sister Paula Damiano said.

• “The Wabash provides an essential travel route for many bird species for breeding, feeding and migration. The river valley is a migratory fly-way, funneling neo-tropical migratory songbirds and waterfowl into the Great Lakes region each spring. It is estimated that between 250 and 300 species of birds visit the lands and water of the Wabash watershed each year,” Wabash Valley Audubon Society President Phil Cox said.

• “The Wabash River is a true asset to our community. I am fortunate to be able to spend time exploring the beauty of the Wabash, and have witnessed the transformation of the river becoming much cleaner. On a recent early December trip from Fairbanks Park to Kearns Landing, I ventured into a tributary on the east bank. I was astonished when I could see the bottom of the creek bed. I initially thought I was in just a few inches of water, but after dropping my paddle into the water, I realized I was seeing the bottom through about three feet of water. Absolutely amazing,” Vigo County resident Brendan Kearns said.

• “Being a close observer of our bird species, it cannot be stressed enough that the network of rivers and streams that drain into the Wabash and the Wabash River itself is of vital importance to wildlife. Forest, grasslands and marshes along the river provide critical habitat for breeding birds,” Vigo County resident Marty Jones said.

• “It is a beautiful feature and offers inspiration to artists and musicians, and anyone that spends time looking at it,” Art Spaces Executive Director Mary Kramer said.

• “Everything we do in our watershed will affect everyone and everything that lives downstream from us. Our land practices and use of water will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of wildlife, plants and people who depend on that water source downstream from you. If you think ‘why should I care about what happens around the bend of this river, as long as I have a supply of water?’ remember that you live downstream from someone too,” Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Education Supervisor Warren Gartner said.

5 fun reasons to appreciate the  River

• It is Indiana’s river. It spans the entire state of Indiana at nearly 500 miles long and is the focus of Indiana’s state song.

n The Wabash River is the largest undammed river east of the Mississippi River.

• The Wabash River and the rivers and streams that feed into it provide drinking water to 72 percent of Indiana counties.

• The Wabash River provides ample opportunities for Hoosiers to participate in outdoor recreational activities, such as hunting, fishing, boating, bird-watching and hiking.

• The Wabash River is home to 120 endangered, threatened or rare plants and animals, as well as home to 150 species of fish.

A new year, a new tradition

Southard suggests to go down to Fairbanks Park, bring a sandwich, a cup of tea and pair of binoculars and one would just be amazed at what animals they would start to see. And that is exactly what I will start to do in 2013, the Year of the River.


Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreen

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    March 12, 2010