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January 10, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Living on the banks

TERRE HAUTE — We are the Wabash.

Really.

Such a statement isn’t a nostalgic twist on Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie crooning “We Are The World” a generation ago.

This is science.

With rare January sunshine gleaming on the Wabash outside, organizers of the 2013 Year of the River initiative unveiled a yearlong celebration of the famed waterway that gives local residents myriad opportunities to recreate, learn and simply enjoy themselves along its banks. Plans include something for everyone. Plays. Prayers. Hikes. Excursions. Concerts. Art exhibits. Storytelling. Picnics. Motorists on highways bisecting Terre Haute will see billboards promoting the river activities.

“Lots of people will learn about Terre Haute and the Wabash River,” said Mary Kramer, executive director of Art Spaces, co-organizer of the project with Jon Robeson, executive director of Arts Illiana, and Steve Letsinger, art curator and professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The trio, and Mayor Duke Bennett, described the breadth and potential of the Year of the River effort at a Wednesday morning kickoff news conference in the Girl Scouts Building adjacent to Fairbanks Park.

There is one primary lesson all local residents should receive — even if they choose not to experience any of the dozens of events scheduled this year by more than 75 participating outdoors, arts, education and environmental organizations.

We all contribute to the Wabash. Literally.

Approximately 75 percent of river pollution comes from “non-point-source” pollutants. A point source pollutant, explained Angie Tilton of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Healthy Rivers Initiative, would include those large pipes spilling wastewater from cities or industries into the river. Someone kayaking on the river would “point” to those outlets. As visually obvious as they are, point-source pollutants aren’t the dominant culprit.

It’s us. Yes, we are the Wabash.

Folks who wash their cars in paved driveways near a street-side storm sewer contribute. So do those who park a car with a chronic oil leak in a similar driveway. Or someone who tosses trash or cigarette butts on a street near a storm sewer. Or a homeowner who uses salt to melt ice on a driveway or sidewalk. Or somebody who dumps household chemicals near the curb or in the yard. Or a dog owner who leaves the critter’s poop near the roadway. Or a landowner who mows the lawn and empties the grass clippings, tainted by fertilizers, insecticides and weed-killers, by the storm sewer.

“All of that drains into the Wabash River,” Tilton said.

“As far as pollution goes, with the Wabash River,” she added, “everybody contributes.”

With the spotlight shining on it, thanks to the Year of the River, 2013 would be the ideal moment for local people to think twice about their contributions to the community’s most significant natural resource. For years, college students and outdoors groups have routinely rolled up their sleeves to haul away mattresses, meth-lab components, tires and garbage dumped by humans on the conveniently secluded banks of the river and its tributaries. In the year ahead, we could give those students and activists a hand by the less-strenuous task of simply cleaning up our own acts.

Tilton offered a few ideas.

Wash your car in your yard, instead of the driveway. The grass and soil filters the detergents and cleaning agents. Clean up after your dog and put its waste in a trash bag, so the waste can be disposed in the landfill, she said. Get the oil leak in your car fixed. Shovel the snow from your sidewalk or driveway, or get a neighbor to do it. Properly dispose of household chemicals and old motor oil.

Meanwhile, check the 2013 Year of the River events calendar (distributed through the Tribune-Star in December and available at the newspaper offices) or the project’s website www.2013yearof

theriver.com, and participate in one or several of the activities. Find an outdoors group of kayakers or canoeists, or contact Joe Hoopingarner’s Airboats, and actually get “on” the river. (Stick with skilled, safety-minded folks if you do so.)

Then, when you encounter the Wabash — up close, or through the scenic backdrop of Fairbanks Park or Merom Bluffs — you’ll know you played a role in making the river better, not worse. You will have taken action.

That’s what local Girl Scouts are doing. At Wednesday’s news conference, Girl Scouts leaders displayed an “enviroscape” — a contoured panoramic miniature community, depicting a farm, a factory, a subdivision, bridges, roads, storm sewers and, finally, the river. The device gives the kids a visual idea of how their daily behaviors affect the Wabash. Using colorings (or, sometimes, Kool-Aid) for the pollution sources, the girls then spray clean water (like rain) on the model, watching it all flow toward the river.

Diana Keely, director of programs for the Girls Scouts, and Alicia Martin, the program development manager, explained how the replica neighborhood educates the Scouts — and their parents — about pollution.

“When a kid visualizes throwing trash out the car window, they don’t realize how that’s going to get all the way down in [the water],” Keely said.

“It opens their eyes,” she said of the Scouts, as young as age 6. They’re urged to “take action,” Martin said.

In this Year of the River, we grownups should do the same thing. Enjoy, view, visit, clean up, and, yes, be the river.

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

tribstar.com.


 

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