One of the most enduring and consequential grassroots efforts in Wabash Valley history got a deserving spotlight on Thursday. The moment should fuel more progress in 2020 and beyond.
The efforts of the nonprofit Wabash Riverscape organization were lauded during its winter luncheon, featuring honored guest and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. Riverscape marked the 10th anniversary of the Healthy Rivers Initiative, launched by Daniels during his second term. Daniels, now the Purdue University president, pushed the Healthy Rivers project into reality, aiming to preserve 70,000 acres of wetlands along the Wabash and Muscatatuck rivers.
Healthy Rivers Initiative became the largest conservation project in Indiana history, requiring the state to acquire and restore riverbank property from willing sellers. The initiative remains the most perpetually beneficial action of Daniels’ eight years as governor, from 2005 to 2013. Several of his administration’s other policies are still sources of controversy, but Healthy Rivers rightly enjoys solid support. It earned Daniels the label as the “Teddy Roosevelt of Indiana,” bestowed by a leader of The Nature Conservancy organization.
That nickname got mentioned at last week’s Riverscape luncheon in Terre Haute, where Daniels met with community members.
Daniels also directed praise toward Riverscape, one of several crucial private and nonprofit partners that have helped the Healthy Rivers Initiative acquire 37,848 acres of wetlands and wildlife habitats, so far. That amounts to more than half of the 70,000 acres goal, which involves a $22-million investment by the state and its conservation partners. Riverscape holds a special spot in Hoosier conservation efforts, aiming to enhance accessibility, recreation and residential life along the Wabash.
“The people of Riverscape should be so proud, not only of this project but of the example they’ve set for conservation all over the state,” Daniels said Thursday.
Riverscape includes a wide assortment of members and supportive entities and individuals, ranging from Vigo County and the city of Terre Haute to private donors, volunteers, land owners, Indiana Department of Natural Resources staff, conservationists, outdoors groups, trails aficionados, bird-watchers, local college students and just average folks. Their accomplishments are many since organizing more than a decade ago.
The growth of the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute stands out. So does the launch of the Wabash Valley Crew program, and the formation of a rowing team at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Apartment living alongside the Wabash has grown, including the RiverFront Lofts in the renovated former Pillsbury factory. Indiana State University put its new Gibson Track and Field Complex on the riverfront, too. Soon, a $1.1-million walkway will give pedestrians safe passage between West Terre Haute and Terre Haute on U.S. 150. Wabash Valley Art Spaces’ Turn to the River project will connect downtown to the Wabash.
Much more is planned.
Daniels’ Healthy Rivers Initiative gives projects in Hoosier communities, such as Terre Haute’s Riverscape, a sustainable foundation to build upon. Land included in Healthy Rivers will remain legally protected under the program. That means Riverscape can expect additions such as Bicentennial Park, added last year west of the river, to be a recreational resource for decades to come.
As Riverscape tipped its hat to former Gov. Daniels, he rightly returned the gesture. Riverscape promises to make Terre Haute’s portion of the Wabash — the most historic of the official state river’s 474 miles — a destination for residents and visitors.