News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 7, 2013

EDITORIAL: A chance to change our bad cultural habits

Cleaning up river a good place to start


The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The sight of diligent, eager young people dragging trash out of the Wabash River wetlands is both inspiring and sad.

Their efforts restore the area’s natural beauty. A disregard for the local environment necessitates their work.

Cleanups of the wetlands have continued for several years as the region became a state and federally recognized preserve, the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area. It resumes today. The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Sustainability Club is sponsoring the third annual Operation Wabashiki at Dewey Point, on the east edge of West Terre Haute along U.S. 40. The club asks volunteers to bring safety glasses and work gloves to help remove garbage from the wetlands from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Coffee and snacks also await participants.

Volunteers need not be college students. In fact, longtime Valley residents would find it refreshing to work side-by-side with students from the local campuses, many of whom may only spend a few years in this community. Their concern and gumption set an example.

Each cleanup session brings Wabashiki closer to its potential, but the volume of discarded items — built up over decades — is substantial. People continue to dump illegally into the Wabash watershed, too. Likewise, trash tossed elsewhere washes into the wetlands during periodic flooding. So, the refuse mountain gets smaller but doesn’t disappear.

The idea of heaving a mattress into an otherwise scenic stream seems abhorrent to most folks. It is a reality, though. Volunteers have found bedding, couches, thousands of plastic bottles, cups and food wrappers, meth lab equipment and ingredient packets, scores of old tires, toilets, busted furniture, toys, car seats, carpeting, bath tubs, kitchen sinks, propane tanks, animal skeletons, soiled underwear, syringes, burned out cars, gas station cigarette signs, and — fittingly — bullet-riddled “No Dumping” signs.

All deposited “On the Banks of the Wabash,” using the fabled phrase of our state song’s composer, Paul Dresser.

The community should summon a dose of outrage to be channeled into a collective determination. All of us should desire the same outcome Wabashiki cleanup crews work toward — a beautiful river and community.

Given the fact that Terre Haute is celebrating 2013 Year of the River, an outpouring of volunteerism for Sunday’s Wabashiki cleanup would be appropriate. One constant message uttered during preparations for the year-long observance of the river’s value is that the Valley has outgrown its neglectful treatment of the historic waterway. For decades, Terre Haute — and other Hoosier cities — used the Wabash as a convenient sewer. Through laws, public awareness and basic maturity of our society, that ignorant attitude is changing.

Still, we have not kicked our cultural habit of leaving our trash for others to pick up. The situation in the wetlands exemplifies that shortcoming. We should not expect the college students’ garbage-removal projects to merely outpace the littering habits of the general public.

Anyone physically able and willing to help out today will be welcome. If you’ve got questions, email the club at sustainability@smwc.edu. Bring your gloves, glasses and energy, drink some coffee and brighten up our most famous natural resource.