TERRE HAUTE —
The only things missing were a volleyball net and a campfire.
Otherwise, the setting fit all the criteria of an NFL game-day TV commercial — a warm sandy beach, glistening waters, a cloudless sky, and smiling people munching on a mess of fresh fish cooked by an expert. For the thirsty, there were coolers full of cold beverages. (Soft drinks and water, for those wondering.)
Try the Wabash River.
Too few locals have seen this fabled, much-maligned waterway from the perspective provided to a couple dozen curious souls Tuesday afternoon during a celebration of the Healthy Rivers INitiative’s second anniversary. The formalities included comments by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and various other speakers praising him for triggering the project, which will eventually protect 43,000 acres of wetlands and wildlife areas, including the centerpiece — the Wabash River and its watershed. In return, Daniels thanked federal agencies, conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy, and grassroots organizations like Riverscape and the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission for illuminating the value of the oft-ignored Wabash.
As he spoke, Daniels stood at the spot where most Terre Haute residents get their only exposure to the river — Fairbanks Park. With that backdrop, the governor said during a brief ceremony, “That’s about as pretty a sight as any available in Indiana.”
Less than an hour later, after the crowd at the park dispersed, I realized the governor, with all due respect, was wrong. Actually, the Wabash offers plenty of other postcard-caliber scenery along its 500-mile path, including the most famous segment flowing through Terre Haute and Vigo County.
A trio of vans carried a couple dozen willing souls from Fairbanks Park to the Michael Hunter Kearns Public Access Site near Tecumseh, a few miles north of Terre Haute. From that ramp on the river, a flotilla of fishing boats and airboats ferried a couple dozen willing souls to a large sandbar. As we climbed ashore, a cluster of folks surrounded Bud Montgomery, who was frying Asian carp — yes, those weird, leaping, unwanted fish — in the middle of the sandbar.
The demonstration was intended to spread the word about the problems created by that fish species that invaded the Wabash a decade ago, migrating here through the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. But this forum on the sand also highlighted the resilience of the Wabash. Over the decades, man has subjected it to pollution, neglect and now a foreign fish species that devours its algae and plankton — the crucial first layer of the river’s food-chain.
And yet, there was the Wabash, graciously entertaining its human guests once more, as if nothing had ever happened, showing off its hidden beauty under spectacular June sunshine.
Most of us avoid getting too close to the Wabash for various reasons. Indeed, it definitely should not be approached without proper safety precautions and permission. Others worry about its water quality, a significant yet misunderstood concern. For some, visiting its banks is too much of a hassle.
The trip to that sandbar Tuesday was special. The dry weather exposed more of it than usual, said Chuck Adams, senior donor relations manager for The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter. The sandbar hugs an S-curve in the Wabash, where the only signs of civilization are utility lines and towers on the horizon above the opposite shore.
“I don’t think many people — even if they’ve lived their whole life in Terre Haute or the suburbs — have ever seen what the river looks like,” Adams said as small waves rocked one of the arriving fishing boats. A majority of those folks, he added, have “certainly not been on the river in any capacity.”
Aside from the presence of numerous dignitaries Tuesday — including two mayors, a state legislator, the directors of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter, and John Goss, the Asian carp “czar” for the White House Council on Environmental Quality — the moment on the Wabash was routine for Montgomery.
Others may see the Wabash as an unknown, but not Montgomery. “I was raised on it,” he said, grinning beneath a straw hat. “It’s been there. They’ve just never been to it.”
Representing the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department, Montgomery blackened and deep-fried the Asian carp at the sandbar cookout. He knows Wabash River fish. His 80-year-old dad, Arbie, runs a legendary fish market in West Terre Haute. Often behind the grill at pancake breakfasts and other Parks Department events, Bud said matter-of-factly, “I can cook about anything.”
The thought that his entree on Tuesday was Asian carp from the Wabash might, alone, scare some folks. For me, the second and third bites came much easier than the first. I’ll admit to hesitating before chewing that first Asian carp nugget. Other than a few scattered fish bones, the morsels tasted light, flaky and good.
A month ago, a Purdue University professor who studies the Wabash explained to me that water-quality problems along the river are primarily localized. The Wabash, he said, is actually cleaner than its muddy appearance indicates. It has pollution issues, no doubt. As statistics from The Nature Conservancy state, seven fish and 18 mussel species once native to the Wabash have vanished. Land developments and draining, deforestation and wetlands loss, sedimentation and pollution have degraded the water quality and wildlife diversity, according to the conservancy. But progress is happening.
Daniels contended that the Wabash, and the air above it, is cleaner “than it was when I was a kid.”
Once those 43,000 acres along 93 miles of the Wabash’s watershed are fully protected, nature lovers who experience the river up close “will be in clean water all the way,” the governor assured.
Later, at the sandbar gathering, which Daniels was unable to attend, Larry Clemens — an official at the Efroymson Conservation Center in Indianapolis — offered a measured assessment. Thinking back to the adoption of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, Clemens said, “We’ve come a long ways. It’s been an improvement, for sure.
“I think,” he added, “we have a ways to go.”
Then, he and others boarded a departing fishing boat and headed upstream.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
The only things missing were a volleyball net and a campfire.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
Pioneers think counterintuitively. Where others see widespread apathy, they focus on the possibility for progress. In a way, the 2013 Year of the River celebration began in the 1970s.
Planning session aims to better Terre Haute
It’s not yet clear what will come of it, but dozens of community leaders spent the whole day Wednesday trying to develop a plan – or collection of plans – to make Terre Haute “a better community.”
Education funding boost won’t benefit all schools
In the budget bill passed by the General Assembly last month, there is more money allocated for K-12 education over the next two years, but that doesn’t mean every school will get more dollars.
- Day of Action job options open
Park Board renames land around Memorial Stadium
Land surrounding Indiana State University’s Memorial Stadium on Terre Haute’s east side has been designated as Veterans Memorial Park, following a unanimous vote Wednesday from the Terre Haute Park Board.
Deputy suffers minor injury during incident
A Vigo County Sheriff’s deputy received a minor injury to his hand Tuesday night while subduing a drunken driving suspect who fled behind a North Terre Haute business.
Man accused of child neglect gets new trial date
An Oct. 15 trial date has been set for a Terre Haute man arrested in November for child neglect after he and his wife allegedly tied up and confined their adopted children in the family home.
Police find meth labs, arrest Pierson Township man
Police uncovered two active methamphetamine labs in southeastern Vigo County on Monday, leading to the arrest of a Pierson Township man.
New date set for attempted murder trial
A new trial date has been set for a Terre Haute woman charged with attempted murder.
Rose-Hulman professor researching ways to make homes storm safe
Tornadoes produce greater uplift forces than hurricanes, which can flatten homes such as in Moore Okla., south of Oklahoma City.
Group wants to connect downtown Terre Haute with the Wabash River
Fairbanks Park is underutilized.
The Wabash River is peaceful and inviting, but there is some concern about its cleanliness as well as pollution levels. Also, people can’t get on the river unless they have a boat.
New conservancy district appoints first directors
Members of the first board of directors of a new lake conservancy district were appointed Tuesday by the Vigo County Board of Commissioners.
Vigo law enforcement signs Triad charter to protect seniors
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined Vigo County law enforcement and community activists Tuesday to sign the county’s first Triad charter, becoming the 22nd Triad in Indiana.
Wabash Valley Red Cross wraps up Save the Day Campaign
The American Red Cross Wabash Valley Chapter’s 2013 annual meeting concluded the 17th annual Save the Day Campaign, and the results lifted the spirits of all who were involved.
Some Vigo roads washed out
Spring storms resulted in $250,000 in damages to roads in southern Vigo County, with costs including sand and labor to save homes near river bottoms, said county highway Assistant Superintendent Dan Bennett.
County Council votes $78K toward rail spur
County officials voted Tuesday night to make good on a 2011 promise to help improve a railroad spur just north of Terre Haute for Menard Inc.
Spring flooding damages future CSO holding lagoon
Flood waters from the Wabash River have done costly damage to one of the city-owned “lagoons” on former International Paper property.
Vigo tops state average for IREAD-3 scores
The Vigo County School Corp. exceeded the state average in the percentage of students passing the state’s mandatory Grade 3 reading test, IREAD-3.
Storms cause minor damage in Valley
Tuesday morning storms in the Wabash Valley caused thousands of Duke Energy customers to lose power.
Kindergartner diagnosed with MD treated to a day with the fire department
“He’ll just never forget this day,” Stacey Manley said, a little bit tearfully, as she watched her smiling 6-year-old son Carter sitting happily in the captain’s seat of Fire Engine 2.
Casey, Illinois aims for another world record
The town of Casey, Ill., may soon weave its way into the record books as the small town with the most world records. After setting records for the world’s largest wind chimes and the world’s largest golf tee, Casey is now looking to become home to the world’s largest knitting needles and crochet hook.
Rose-Hulman projects will promote growth, learning for people with physical challenges
Life changed dramatically for college engineering student Drew Christy on Feb. 22, 2008 when he was involved in an auto accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
‘500’ gas stations being sold to Speedway LLC
After several decades in business, the area’s familiar “500” gasoline stations and convenience stores will soon be missing from the roadsides of Vigo and Sullivan counties.
Terre Haute woman faces 14 charges
A Terre Haute woman faces 14 criminal counts after her arrest Friday on drug-related charges.
Two adults injured in ATV accident
Two adults were injured Sunday evening while riding an all-terrain vehicle near Lexington Farms Subdivision off Moyer Drive in southern Vigo County.
Vigo schools’ medical claims down 4 percent
The Vigo County School Corp.’s medical claims were about $13 million over the last 12 months, down 4 percent from the prior year, said Diane Titchenell, an Anthem account manager that works with the school district.
2013 Government Directory now available
The 2013 Government Directory is now available.
Life-Size Ping Pong: Valley pickleball tourney draws large crowd to Brittlebank Park
It’s been described as “ping pong on steroids.”
Some people call it “life-size ping pong where you stand on the table.”
Boat trip aims to raise awareness about Lewy Body Dementia
In 2013, the Year of the River, it makes sense to link a grand adventure on the Wabash River with a good cause.
Legislature had little taste for alcohol bills
When it comes to alcohol, the 2013 legislative session may be marked more by what it didn’t do to boost booze sales than what it did.
- More News Headlines
- Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment