News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 18, 2013

Points of interest along the Wabash: A few public access points provide unique peeks at river communities

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

---- — While giving a presentation on the Wabash to a gathering of Indiana State University’s Osher Lifelong Living Institute in June, river enthusiast Brendan Kearns asked how many people in the audience had been “on the river.”

In a group that included many senior citizens, nearly every hand raised.

“That was pretty impressive,” Kearns said.

The opportunity to experience the Wabash River up close exists in the Terre Haute stretch. One of the prime chances comes through airboat rides, launched from the Port of Terre Haute dock on Fairbanks Park’s south side, and many of Kearns’ audience members had taken advantage of the Joe’s Airboats service. Since 2006, Joe Hoopingarner has shuttled passengers on his two airboats up and down the river for 30-minute rides at $15 per person. Rides are available from noon to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, or by appointment on other days. (Call 812-208-1901 or see www.joesairboats.com online.)

South of the public access points (with paved ramps) at Montezuma and Clinton’s Riverfront Park, entries to the river are less numerous for individual boaters in the stretch from Terre Haute to Vincennes.

From Fairbanks Park to Ouabache Trails Park in Vincennes, the only Indiana-side access point is the beautiful Merom Bluff Park in Sullivan County. The launch in Merom includes a stairway and riverside trail from the 200-foot bluff above to the waterfront.

The view from the bluff must be seen. Visible on the Illinois landscape is the Marathon Petroleum Refinery in Robinson — 10 miles away.

“It’s a beautiful place and it’s ours — we, the people, own it,” said longtime Merom resident John Gettinger, also president of the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission. The town of 200 residents contains several historic sights, including the Merom Conference Center (the former Union Christian College) and an original Carnegie Library, still operating and virtually intact from its origin in 1918.

On the west bank in Illinois, Hutsonville offers a full view of the broad Wabash. Jackie Eckert and her husband, Charles, run Wabash Coffee House within eyeshot of the waterway and the stateline bridge. Boaters are among the patrons at the Monday-through-Saturday breakfast-and-lunch shop. “Basically, we’re lucky just to be by the bridge,” Eckert said.

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