Sierran Masthead

Hoosiers Show Concern for Clean Water as 150 Join Ride the River 2000

by Ed Paynter, Hoosier Chapter Chair

The Sierra Club’s weeklong Ride the River 2000 canoe event on central Indiana’s White River ended on June 11 in Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis, the site of its symbolic beginning six days earlier.

Building on the success of the first Ride the River two years ago, which went from Broad Ripple on the north side of Indianapolis to the mouth of Fall Creek downtown, this year’s trip planners made the ambitious decision to float all the river possible, from its source in Randolph County back to the starting point of the original Ride the River event.

Media coverage was good on Monday morning, June 5, as those planning to make the whole trip met at the park to explain the journey’s purpose and itinerary.

Earlier, an advance article in the Indianapolis Star and a very early Saturday morning talk show explained the trip to citizens who hadn’t heard about it through Sierra Club publications. We took this opportunity to show off a brand new Loon 160T tandem kayak, which was donated by the Old Town Canoe Company, their regional distributor the Great Northern Company, and their local supplier Galyan’s. We planned to raffle off the kayak in support of the event. It became the ‘“pace car” of Ride the River 2000, and its owner-to-be could claim that it had made the entire floatable length of the White River to Indianapolis.

‘“Through trippers” described to the press what they expected to see and learn on the 95-mile trip. Though all who started expected to have fun, fun was just half of the trip’s purpose. Underlying the adventure were the desires to emphasize the river’s condition and threats, and to encourage citizens to take responsibility in demanding its protection. The White River experienced a devastating chemical spill and consequent massive fish kill in December 1999, which virtually eliminated fish for a 50-mile stretch.

Our trip was to take us past the ‘“scene of the crime” four days later. Many people are still afraid to go near the river. Though the threats still exist, the river is recovering. For many, the White River has become the poster child for Indiana’s threatened rivers. From Indianapolis north to its source, the White River is the unwelcome recipient of pollution legally released by holders of National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, of which there are more than 150. Each permit allows its holder to discharge an amount of pollutant. However, no cumulative information is available from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)--the permit issuers--to tell citizens the amount allowed at any given point.

The Sierra Club compiled and distributed, both to participants and to people who came to meet us along the way, over 100 packets with data gleaned from IDEM Web pages on expired permits and violations along the upper White River. These packets included fact sheets about the river’s threats, including agricultural runoff, failing septic systems, sanitary sewer overflows, and siltation.

After leaving Broad Ripple Park, the through trippers and some supporters drove to the river’s source a few miles south of Winchester in Randolph County. There we saw a small field tile with a slight but steady flow that created a stream we could step across without getting wet. This was the source of Indiana’s White River.

We drove to a park in nearby Winchester, crossing the river at least three times on the way, to see it as it grows with the added volume of contributing streams. Though it suffers some abuse even to get that far, the river on this day was running strong and clear.

We drove to County Road 1250W to put in at the bridge there, a site called Crystal Pool by the locals. After lots of unloading, supply shuffling, and canoe toting, we were on our way!

There seemed to be enough water to float our crafts, but we soon found ourselves stepping out of the boats numerous times as we floated to Boy Scout Camp Redwing, inside Delaware County.

If weather was the primary determinant of what kind of day we had, it was miserable! Rain, drizzle, rain, cold wind, rain, low water--did I mention rain?

Fortunately, newfound friends, the exuberance of the adventure ahead, and the fun of paddling on a wild river carried the day.

Wet and cold, 12 of us arrived at Camp Redwing to find members of the Sierra Club’s Five Rivers Group waiting with dinner, blankets, and rides to the showers. The night passed with talk by a large fire in front of a rack of drying clothes.

Tuesday started early with a short float through Muncie. Part way there we stopped in Muncie’s Tuhey Park for lunch and enjoyed the first in a series of beautiful, sunny days. Across the river from our resting spot was the Cardinal Trail, a rail-trail with beautiful river overlooks.

We pushed off and stopped again south of downtown Muncie to give two ‘“Friend of the River” awards. The first went to John Craddock, longtime river advocate in Muncie. The other went to the Minnetrista Center for its enlightened landscaping along the river. The awards and our trip were covered on the front page of the Muncie Star Press the next morning.

The trip through Muncie was beautiful, with human use mostly restricted to the north bank and with the river left mostly wild on the south side. In Muncie we carried, dragged, lifted, lowered, and in a few cases, floated our boats over five dams.

A final push took us to the home of Robert and Susan Guillaud well before dark, where John and Susan Taylor were waiting with a great hot meal. Muncie balladeer Mike McKillip came by to perform his music. We retreated to our tents in the Guillaud’s backyard high above the river.

An Indianapolis Star reporter and photographer joined us for most of the trip on Tuesday, and a great article was published in the Star on Friday, explaining the trip’s purpose and describing what we had seen. Three weeks earlier, another thorough article in the Star had shown our route and encouraged a number of our through trippers to join us.

A longer trip was scheduled for Wednesday, so with an early start we took off for Mounds State Park, 17 miles away. We stopped for lunch at Canoe Country, a Daleville canoe livery. The owner moved a picnic table closer for our use and provided rides to the facilities.

We pushed off toward Mounds and arrived after just over four hours of paddling, a remarkable 4 miles per hour. Along the way, as every day, we saw dozens of turtles, a few snakes, and lots of small fish along the banks. Evidence of small mammals was wherever sand or mud held their tracks.

Sadly, the tire count was rising faster than the animal count, and the term ‘“used appliance dropoff area” was being used instead of ‘“bridge.”

Wednesday night was spent at Mounds State Park. Though individuals joined and left each day, by now we had about 20 paddling with us and were joined by others for dinner and a spirited frisbee session.

Thursday was a short day, about 8 miles. It was punctuated by a stop at Anderson’s Edgewater Park for lunch arranged by our partners, White River Watchers, who had also organized the previous night’s meal. The Anderson newspaper sent a reporter to talk to us, and we appeared on the front page of the Herald-Bulletin the next morning. It used a great photo of us paddling close together after leaving the park.

Midafternoon we passed the Anderson Wastewater Treatment Plant where less than 6 months earlier the disastrous discharge occurred. We saw a small band of white foam shoot out of the discharge pipe about two-thirds across the river. The foam dissipated quickly and had a detergent-like odor. As we floated by, I talked by cell phone with George McLaren, the Star reporter who had joined us for Tuesday.

A whole article could be written about our Thursday stopping point and its owners, Zoey and John Johnson. Earlier we had given our third Friend of the River award to the Johnsons, long-time river advocates who put action behind words of respect for the river. Their riverfront, weekend property is a beautiful sight. A clean pond, an area set aside for native Americans’ use, trails, and a lack of trash (which the river relentlessly deposits) were signs that the Johnsons’ award was well deserved. It proved to be the best night of all (if you don’t count getting home and sleeping in one’s own bed). Food was provided by the Johnsons.

Friday was another long day. Now with 27 paddlers, we started early to make the trip to White River Campgrounds at 234th Street in Hamilton County. After lunch on the river bank in Perkinsville, we pushed on. Friday’s dinner was provided by Connie and John (JD) Smith. The Smiths also sprung for the portable toilet at Saturday’s campout. We had been warned that Saturday’s paddle from 234th Street to Hazel Landing Campground was long, and since a few miles were through still waters behind the Clare dam, we vowed start early.

I needed to be at the Forest Park boat launch by 10:30 a.m., so Ed Long and I started before 7. Getting around the dam was easy. Finding where to take out to do so was a challenge. (It’s at the curve in the growth-covered flotsam on the right, not too far past the power plant’s water intake railing.)

Before 10 a.m., Ed and I, and soon the rest of the overnight campers, had reached the boat ramp. We waited until just before 11 to launch an impressive mass of canoes, kayaks, and one little craft that defied description.

Counting those who launched at 234th Street, Potter’s Bridge, the boat ramp across from Forest Park, and Schwartz’s Bait & Tackle (and canoe livery), we had over 120 people on the river, learning how it is threatened and what they can do to help.

This was the BIG DAY that we had spent the most time planning. It was brought off without a hitch by Jennifer Cannon, chapter staffer and overall Saturday coordinator; Kevin Dogan, our ‘“launch commander”; Rosemary Spalding, our ‘“paper person” for the day; and numerous others. Everyone was in the water on time with no incidents, and Kevin ‘“swept” the river to be sure we had the same paddler count as when we started.

By the time we got to Hazel Landing Park, we were stretched out along the river. Even from the launch ramp the trip was over 11 miles, a long way for the many inexperienced paddlers. But everyone seemed to arrive in good spirits. Beautiful T-shirts donated by IPALCO were presented to everyone registered, and river facts folders were distributed. Dinner Saturday was organized by Angee and Tim White.

As a service, we assembled seven picnic tables for the Carmel-Clay Parks Department and spread many wheelbarrows of chips on a spot that had been rutted by off-road vehicles. A large campfire encouraged discussion into the dark hours.

Sunday morning saw a slow start as tired paddlers awoke to an overcast day, ate some breakfast fetched by Sue Pines and James Ertmer, stashed gear in Ed Long’s van that served all week as our support vehicle, and shoved off.

The last day of paddling, though not the longest, may have been the most difficult. After some initial fast water, the river becomes essentially a long lake backed up behind the Broad Ripple Dam. It is used by many power boats, some whose drivers respected the low sides of our canoes, and some whose drivers seemed oblivious to us.

After a strenuous paddle across open spaces with a growing breeze, we arrived at the park, a bit more than six days after our start. Seven people paddled the whole trip: Donna Olsen and her grandsons Nicholas (13) and Nathan (10), Ed Long, Tom Ransburg, Sandy Miles, and me. Two others, Bob Hanes and Bob Long, did six days. The kayak was won by George Smolka from northern Indiana, perhaps the person who came the farthest.

At the trip’s end, we announced the formation of the Protect Indiana Waters Partnership, a statewide coalition of groups working to unify support for serious recommendations to state government that will improve the quality of our waters.

We thank all those who joined us for demonstrating their concern for the White River and for all Indiana rivers.

Will we do another Ride the River somewhere in Indiana? We just might. There are plenty of Indiana rivers left to see. With your help and concern, we can keep them clean for all to enjoy.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[9/24/02]efp

Fall 2000