Soggy, mud-caked jeans and a formerly white T-shirt were my youngest son’s summertime uniform, as a kid.
He, his buddy next doorand his older brother would disappear for hours, fishing, hunting mushrooms and relaxing in the shade at the creek nearby. The briars, poison ivy and mosquitoes never stopped him. He loved hanging out with Mother Nature in that spot, just as his dad did a generation earlier. He always came home with a dusty grin.
As he grew older, my son began noticing the amount of debris caught in logjams, stuck in the creekbed and mired on the banks. Tires, appliances, rugs, whole bags of trash.
The disappointment was apparent in his voice, as he described the rubbish tossed into the creek by people. Something he and most other folks considered a thing of beauty was seen as a convenient, free dumping ground by others.
Those two conflicting outlooks summarize Earth Day, which arrives this Sunday.
The nationwide observance each April 22 began in 1970 to increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. Ideally, Earth Day is a reminder for all of us to treat the land, air and water with respect, and to pick up our own messes. Too often, it boils down to some people cleaning up after other people.
You’ve got to appreciate the spirit of volunteers who scoured the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area last Sunday. The area is now set aside as a wetlands preserve on the banks of the Wabash River. Two years ago, Wabashiki opened to the public, allowing visitors to hike or bird watch. In decades past, people took advantage of its secluded levee and waterfront to discard stuff they didn’t want to keep at their own homes.
Those volunteers didn’t want that junk, either. In fact, many of the people choosing to gather up garbage heaved into the watershed probably weren’t even living around Terre Haute when those pieces of litter got tossed. Instead, the energetic members of organizations such as the St. Mary-of-the-Woods College Sustainability Club, the Indiana State University Students Athletics Council, the ISU men’s and women’s running teams, and the ISU Environmental Club just wanted Wabashiki to be clean enough to enjoy.
Strangely enough, many of those college students will work and raise families elsewhere in a few years.
By contrast, much of the 20 bags of trash and recyclables, nearly two dozen tires, five mattresses, a couple of couches, meth lab components, food wrappers, cups and bottles was deposited by, yes, longtime residents of this community. Don’t misunderstand — plenty of lifelong Vigo Countians handle the river with care, and spruce it up regularly, including conservation and civic groups, county and city crews, and teams of supervised inmates from the Federal Correctional Complex. Nonetheless, most of eyesores found along the Wabash are left by locals who know where to dump when nobody’s looking.
The situation isn’t limited to Wabashiki, or the river itself. It extends to the tributaries flowing into the Wabash — Honey Creek, Otter Creek, Prairie Creek, Lost Creek, Coal Creek, Sugar Creek and other smaller streams. A bridge on a remote country road can become a routine venue for dumping TVs and broken lawn chairs into the creek below.
Earth Day 2012 coincides with this year’s 40th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, a landmark 1972 law intended to curtail the variety of contaminants sent into U.S. rivers, creeks, lakes, oceans and groundwater. With that in mind, this might be a good year for this community to sweat the smaller stuff — the entire Wabash River watershed, from the river to all of those creeks that feed it.
In an interview last month, Purdue University agronomy professor Ron Turco emphasized that the Wabash is basically a reflection of the water quality of its tributaries. “So all those little ditches and streams that come in, the attention should really be on them,” he said.
A mattress hurled over a bridge and into a creekbed illustrates the problem. That single item of litter can disrupt the stream’s path, cause a logjam, trigger sediment buildup and flood nearby crops, and clog bridge supports, said Eddy Adams, Vigo County district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Keeping the creeks and brooks clear is “just as important, if not more so” than tending to the Wabash, said Rob Jean, assistant professor of ecology at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. “A lot of those are the immediate contact points that are encountered by kids. People get more exposure to those places than the river itself.”
Jean was among the volunteers at Wabashiki last Sunday, and he’s helped with similar cleanups there in past years. The crews find less trash each time, “but there’s still plenty,” Jean said.
Groups began hauling trash from the area several years ago, when the wetlands project was still in the planning stages. Randy Millar, a veteran of 33 years with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, served as property manager at the Wabashiki site back then. The levee, south of the village of Dresser, now serves as a hiking and running path, often tread on by the ISU cross country teams.
It wasn’t always pedestrian-friendly, so to speak.
“The first time I went down that levee, it was like, ‘Oh, boy. We’ve got a job in front of us,’” recalled Millar, who is now the DNR District 9 biologist, covering Vigo, Clay, Owen, Greene and Sullivan counties.
The volume of trash was immense.
“Before we started, there was something every square foot,” Millar said.
Three-hundred tires were pulled out on the first sweep. Used-up meth equipment, such as plastic buckets, tubes, bottles, fire extinguisher tanks, propane tanks, scuba tanks and syringes. Bedding. Any garbage that would float from the tributaries to the river, and through flooding. Over the years, volunteers have found burned furniture, dog skeletons, soiled underwear, bullet-ridden “No Dumping” signs (how ironic) and burned out cars.
Some people dump into streams because of laziness. Some simply do it because their parents, siblings or neighbors did it. Others can’t afford to (or refuse to budget money) to pay for weekly trash pickup or to pay $34.45 to dump a pickup truck load of garbage at Sycamore Ridge Landfill. The majority don’t use creeks or the Wabash as a disposal. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are doing it right,” Millar said, “but one person can do a lot of damage.”
Though Millar suspects the waterways get trashed less often than 25 years ago, this community can still improve.
Maybe more people need to look at the streams in the same ways as those college students and volunteers … or a kid with a fishing rod.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
Soggy, mud-caked jeans and a formerly white T-shirt were my youngest son’s summertime uniform, as a kid.
- Local & Bistate
Purdue shooting leaves one person dead
A Purdue University engineering student opened fire inside a basement classroom Tuesday, killing a teaching assistant and prompting officials to put the campus on lockdown, police and the university said.
You’re home now
To say that Michael Curry was stressed is an understatement.
THS grad Miller among students in adjacent building when shooting occurs
Kris Miller and his roommate were in a computer lab of Purdue’s mechanical engineering building Tuesday when they received a call that a shooting had occurred next door.
Bosma moves gay marriage ban bill to friendlier committee
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma sent a bill that proposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a more conservative-leaning legislature committee Tuesday, because it lacked support on the first committee to which it was assigned.
We enter the deep freeze again
If you had to step outside to get your newspaper this morning, you might have noticed it’s painfully cold once again.
Levy redirects school funds
If the new “protected levy” legislation goes into effect later this year, it would mean “a substantial reduction” in revenue for Vigo County School Corp. bus transportation, capital projects and bus replacement funds, according to the district’s chief financial officer.
School debt levy redirects funds across Indiana
School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.
More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.
VIDEO: Sen. Donnelly updates T-S editorial board
Passage of a long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed by the end of this month, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Tuesday.
Vigo coroner tries again for salary increase
After being denied last year, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos is again seeking to have her county salary increased to match that of several other county office holders.
‘Ups and downs’ in the Statehouse
As state legislators head into the final week of the state legislative session, five of them from the Wabash Valley met with citizens Saturday at the Vigo County Public Library in downtown Terre Haute and engaged in conversation about the “ups and downs” of the recent session.
Finding what the kids need
One Saturday morning event in Terre Haute aimed to raise awareness about the resources available to people with disabilities.
Spotting pot, gun in home nets 2 arrests.
Two adults were arrested and two children removed from a Vigo County home on Friday after drugs and a handgun with altered serial numbers were discovered in the home, authorities said.
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Focus on poverty, inequality
The issues of poverty and inequality will be at the forefront of the 13th annual Terre Haute Human Rights Day on March 18 at Indiana State University.
VIDEO: Tasting their way to a cure
People appeared to be in high spirits Friday inside the historic Indiana Theatre as they gathered for an evening of wine, food and conversation while supporting efforts to find a cure for breast cancer.
Same-sex marriage: 4 couples sue state over ban
Four gay couples from southern Indiana sued the state Friday, seeking to force Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state and issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Time to check smoke alarms
Three years after a house fire on South Nine Street in Terre Haute resulted in the death of three people, a Terre Haute grandmother still wonders if the outcome of that fire would have been different if smoke detectors in the home had been working.
Indiana State Board extends president’s contract
Indiana State University has signed up Dan Bradley, the school’s president, for an additional three years of service.
New animal shelter gets welcome boost
The aging Terre Haute Humane Society shelter is not a place for the faint of heart.
4 couples sue Indiana over same-sex marriage ban
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Four couples from southern Indiana are asking a federal judge to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 7, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Thursday and Friday, based on jail records.
Bill for welfare drug testing in negotiation
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two Indiana lawmakers trying to pass a bill requiring drug tests for some welfare recipients say they have passed voluntary drug tests.
Book signing March 7 in Crossroads Café to benefit Success By 6
The book “One Day I Could Be ... Careers in the Wabash Valley,” is on sale now and will be available at a book signing today, March 7, during a First Friday event in downtown Terre Haute.
Groups ask regulators to probe plant’s power woes
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Environmental and citizens’ groups are asking Indiana regulators to launch a formal investigation into problems and delays that have sharply limited the power output of Duke Energy’s $3.5 billion coal-gasification plant near Edwardsport.
Nature trust expands Owen-Putnam State Forest
POLAND, Ind. (AP) — State officials say funding from the Bicentennial Nature Trust has helped the Indiana Department of Natural Resources expand a central Indiana state forest by 84 acres.
Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional
Drivers of remote-controlled robots will match skills, similar to those used in basketball and soccer, to score in the FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Benefit planned for daycare fire victim
Veronica Gray never met 19-month-old Emma Lloyd, but when she learned about the child’s tragic death in a Sullivan day care fire, she had to do something.
Winter’s costs add up for Vigo
While still within county and city budgets, the snowstorms of January and February were more costly than a year ago.
Mayor Bennett threatens veto of consultant funding
Mayor Duke Bennett is threatening to veto a measure before the Terre Haute City Council that would transfer money into the council’s budget allowing the body to again hire a financial consultant.
Semitrailer fire slows eastbound traffic on Interstate 70
Traffic on Interstate 70 was slowed Thursday afternoon by a semitrailer fire just east of Terre Haute.
Tests show Skittles had no unusual chemicals
The Indiana State Health Department has given Skittles a clean bill of health.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead