A River Past, A River Future
By Julie L Rhodes, Collective Impact Director, Reconnecting to Our Waterways
Up and down the White River in Indianapolis, exists a patchwork of communities that build a quilt representing the beautiful and diverse tapestry of our City. History shares stories of those who have lived, worked and played along the banks of the White River. Stories of children fishing with their grandpa from a canoe. Stories of the White River as the back yard for childhood adventure. Beautiful memories of places to picnic with family, bike with friends, be with nature.
At the same time, stories are told of the industries like slaughterhouses that dumped into the White River, the segregated beaches, and the combined sewers that brought waste from homes into waterways. For so many decades, like other major U.S. cities, Indianapolis turned its back on the waterways. We allowed our “white” river to turn brown from the runoff of soil, chemicals, and litter from our streets and sidewalks, and allowed invasive plants to block our views, all while the White River was and remains the largest source for Indianapolis’ drinking water.
Our White River is a system, a watershed where all the water runs to a common place from the most northern part in Randolph County and flowing downstream through 11 Indiana counties for 356 miles. As you picture the quilt that covers farmlands and skyscrapers, forests and suburbs, you can start to understand why each and every person within the watershed can improve or degrade the waterway nearby through their everyday actions.
Since 2012, Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW) has been working to turn the tide on Indy’s relationships with the White River and the waterways flowing through our communities. Since its inception, ROW works directly with waterway-adjacent neighborhoods along, not just the White River, but also the tributary waterways that spill into the White River, including Central Canal, Fall Creek, Little Eagle Creek, Pleasant Run and Pogue’s Run. It’s important to embrace not just the larger river and the exciting projects of the White River Vision Plan, but also to seek out opportunities to engage and enhance the waterway closest to your home, park or school.
In Indianapolis, we want to celebrate the entire White River quilt, and also intentionally connect people every day with all the waterway patches and threads that are being supported by hyper-local efforts, be it invasive plant removal and native pollinator plantings, community clean-ups, picking up after our pets, reducing lawn chemical use or practicing water conservation.
The community patchwork allows each ROW Waterway Committee to appreciate their waterway in their own unique way. Here’s just a few examples:
• Fall Creek has removed harmful invasive plants to recapture its views, and planted a native fruit tree orchard in its place;
• White River is offering a full season of floating and riverside stage A Rising Tide performances on June 20th, July 19th, August 30, September 28 and October 5th;
• Central Canal’s free swimming lessons and fishing initiative is helping reconnect the Riverside community with its waterway;
• Little Eagle Creek is cleaning up a park and creating an outdoor waterside classroom;
• Pleasant Run is placemaking with intentional spaces around Spruce Bridge, Prospect Falls and Barth Bridge
• Pogue’s Run is working to extend a trail, organizing bike tours, and has a photo contest underway.
All of these community-driven initiatives add up to a cleaner White River.
What can you do to help build a lasting quilt that embraces, nourishes and connects you directly to the White River, and to your tributary community?
• Join a ROW Waterway Committee
• Take a Clear Choices Clean Water Pledge
• Volunteer to plant trees with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful
• Learn about points of interest and access points along the White River
• See an artist performance at or on the White River
• Use ROW’s Residential Invasive Removal Guide to improve water quality, bringing birds and butterflies into your backyard