Save Maumee, a group dedicated to preserving the river's ecosystems, launched 10 canoes Saturday as they headed out on the first day of their nine-day, 141-mile downriver paddle to Lake Erie.
Abigail King, founder and vice president of Save Maumee Grassroots Organization, said she saw this as a unique and purposeful way to celebrate Earth Day, which is Tuesday. Saturday morning, abundance of weeds in Junk Ditch at the paddlers' launch site slowed them down slightly as they shifted to a new launch spot at Ardmore and Covington roads.
While most of the group were experienced paddlers a few were canoeing for the first time. Each canoe and kayak was given a signal whistle in case of trouble and participants went over paddle signals before the launch.
A good part of the morning and early afternoon was spent navigating the narrows of Junk Ditch, which eventually spits out into the Maumee River at Swinney Park. Paddlers reported seeing everything from junk TVs and an old swimming pool ladder to rusted-out burn barrels in the water.
Several low bridges made navigation challenging, but in the end they were gliding through downtown Fort Wayne by midafternoon, shortly after 3 p.m. they passed under the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge. They would be taking out before the Hosey Dam for a portage, and finally landing at the New Haven North River Road Nature Area. Sunday they were launching from that site and planning on spending that night at Blue Cast Springs, 2412 Cast Road off old US 24. If all goes as planned the group will reach Toledo, Ohio, after nine days, where they will take out at International Park.
Since 2005, Earth Day celebrations of the all-volunteer organization have removed more than 12 tons of trash from Fort Wayne's Maumee, St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers and many feeder streams. They have planted more than 2,000 native trees and about 900 pounds of Indiana Department of Natural Resources-approved native riparian seed, installed 16,000 square feet of biodegradable erosion-control mats, and harvested 76 pounds of native riparian seed to plant on local riverbanks. The group has grown, and last December they applied for nonprofit status. They hope to soon be a bonafide 501(c)(3).
King said the canoe trip serves three purposes. They want to GPS-locate areas of trash, erosion and tile, and those that would be good for boat launches. Secondly they will educate the public along the way through on-site programs on water pollution and improvements. She has experts coming each day to talk about different topics, anything from beekeeping to bird watching. They will record all the questions from the public and then take them to the experts in those areas for answers. Thirdly, they want to make people aware of the importance of vegetation along the river.
A new federal levee law enacted shortly after 2005's Hurricane Katrina that said river levees must be stripped of vegetation to help prevent flooding. King saw that legislation as something counter-productive to preserving the rivers because vegetation along the banks plays an important role in preventing soil erosion, and helps filter runoff before it reaches the waterways. Thanks to King's persistence, U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-3rd) introduced a bill to challenge the levee law. That bill has passed in the House and is now under consideration in the Senate.
“We want to make people fall in love with the water again,” King said.
By taking this journey she and the organization hope to provide the stage that will help get people back to the water and benefit the environment as well.