July 30, 2014, The Tribune-Star — TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute pays more attention to the Wabash River these days.
The 2013 Year of the River observance focused attention on the river’s history, potential and problems, as have other initiatives such as the Riverscape plans. The more people see and experience the Wabash, the better they care for it and appreciate it. Jerry Hay, the “riverlorian” who wrote the “Wabash River Guide Book,” knows the waterway as well as anyone, verifies that reality.
“Absolutely, I’ve preached that for years,” Hay said this week. “Public awareness is the key to all of it, to get people involved in cleanups and safety and public events.”
A Wabash River advocacy group hopes to mirror the success of Terre Haute’s Year of the River project on a statewide basis. That could result in all of Indiana paying greater attention to its official state river. The Banks of the Wabash Inc. is organizing a “200 Years Along the Wabash” celebration as part of the Indiana 2016 Bicentennial. They envision river walks, boat tours, historical re-enactments, festivals and arts activities in Wabash communities from Bluffton to New Harmony sharing a connection — that murky, famous stream. The same impressive concept unfolded on a smaller scale last year in Terre Haute.
“We really liked the idea, and that’s why we’ve got this idea to expand it up and down the river [in 2016],” said Rae Schnapp of Banks of the Wabash Inc.
One of the primary Year of the River organizers, Wabash Valley Art Spaces executive director Mary Kramer, offered advice and insights, Schnapp said. The Terre Haute effort serves as a model for 2016.
“Year of the River in Terre Haute was a very grassroots project that kind of evolved, and people got excited about it and put resources into it,” Schnapp said. “And we’re hopeful it happens on a statewide basis.”
The Wabash already served as the site of numerous local events, long before Year of the River. As all the various organizations behind those yearly events — from art guilds to outdoors groups, environmental activists to businesses — began meeting in one place to plan the communitywide celebration, they started talking with each other. Some realized they shared similar missions. That network grew. Many events drew larger crowds than ever in 2013, and some new events emerged. The momentum continues, pushing forward other improvements to the river’s cleanliness and accessibility.
Likewise, “200 Years Along the Wabash” could strengthen the network of towns along its 474-mile path.
“Almost all of them would have a heritage of river trade routes through their histories,” said Schnapp, who wears the title of Wabash Riverkeeper.
The Indiana 2016 Bicentennial provides an opportunity to celebrate those histories. The Bicentennial Commission recognized Banks of the Wabash Inc.’s “200 Years Along the Wabash” as a legacy program earlier this year. The commission can bolster events aligned with the 200 Years project through statewide promotion on its calendar, said Deborah Wezensky, communications director for the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
“It will engage Hoosiers of different interests,” Wezensky said.
The “200 Years Along the Wabash” also has gotten support from the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission, an alignment of the 19 Indiana counties bisected by the Wabash aimed at enhancing its environment and recreational qualities.
Other individuals and groups can join the 200 Years project by emailing Schnapp at email@example.com, and details about Banks of the Wabash Inc. are available on its website, banksofthewabash.net. Millions of Hoosiers should be involved, given that the Wabash Valley covers two-thirds of Indiana.The Wabash will benefit from the 2016 spotlight.
“It’s a resource for these river communities,” Schnapp said, “whether they realize it or not.”
The statewide celebration will help more people realize it, just as Terre Haute’s did.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.