Work begins on rowing club dock at Fairbanks

Tribune-Star/Austen LeakeComing soon: Work on a new boat dock at Fairbanks Park that will be used by the Wabash Valley Crew club is underway. 

Work has begun at Fairbanks Park on a new, seasonal floating boat dock that will be used by the Wabash Valley Crew rowing club.

“It’s been a very long road to get to this point,” said Jim Owen, who works closely with the club. “We’re very excited about the possibilities.”

The rowing club is for Wabash Valley high school youths and is open to anyone who is high school age, he said. Some participants are from Illinois.

The dock will be 80 feet long by 71/2 feet wide, with a 20-foot long gangway on the north end.

The rowing club requires a boat dock that sits much lower in the water than a conventional dock.

Wabash Valley Crew, which is building it, has approvals from the Terre Haute Parks Department and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Once completed, it would be given back to the city, with the understanding that it would be used by Wabash Valley Crew for practices and competition, Owen said.

The project “is the culmination of a lot of effort involving many people,” and companies have donated manpower and equipment to prepare the site. Among those on scene Wednesday were Plant Brothers Excavating and Garmong, which put in foundations; Sycamore Engineering has also contributed to the project.

“It’s been a group effort and we are grateful for all of their support,” Owen said.

The dock cost is about $25,000, but it would be about double that without the donated labor and equipment and other volunteer efforts, he said. Wabash Valley Crew has donations to help fund the project, but it is still seeking contributions and working to secure grants, Owen said.

“We’re always interested in having people who want to help,” he said.

The dock is needed for safety and other reasons. In the past, Crew members have launched from the Fairbanks Park boat ramp, taking their shoes off and walking on jagged rocks. Also, two of the rowing shells are 60-feet long and block the ramp when other boating enthusiasts are trying to get in and out of the water.

More recently, with permission from the county parks department, it had used a portable dock to practice at the Fowler Park lake, but the beach is now being used for swimming.

Eventually, once funds are available, the group also would like to put in kayak launch ports on each end of the dock for those who like to kayak. “This is not just about us and Crew and rowing,” he said. “We have an incredible asset in our community we haven’t used adequately [the Wabash River]. I think this [dock] is a step in the right direction.”

Owen said once the group received DNR permission, things have progressed rapidly. “We want to get our fall season underway,” he said.

He cautioned that the dock is not for fishing boats; it is specially designed for rowing shells and kayaks and is just six inches above the water line. “It is very low in the water,” he said.

“We’re excited about having access to the river, which is where we want to train and where we should train,” he said. The seasonal floating dock will be removed in winter.

Owen is president of the Clara Fairbanks Foundation, a private, nonprofit that provides administrative and other support for Wabash Valley Crew.

The Terre Haute Parks Department also has plans to eventually install a new, separate dock to replace one that was destroyed by heavy ice floes in January.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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