Taking a Ride Along the St. Joe

By Max Resnik

June 22, 2011 Updated Jun 22, 2011 at 6:18 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – RiverFest is Saturday, but what keeps so many locals from dipping their toes into the Summit City’s foundation? What would it take to see development along the St. Joseph, St. Marys and Maumee rivers?

Today, Indiana’s NewsCenter went for a boat ride along the St. Joe with 1st District City Councilman Tom Smith (R) and Dan Wire with Friends of the Rivers to see what the rivers are like, what can draw businesses to the rivers and what it will take to break the public perception that the rivers are unkempt.

When it comes to cleanliness, fear not. The rivers are clean. The murky, brown coloring has not always been there. In fact, it is the result of increased farming. What a fisherman or someone canoeing sees in the water is nothing more than sediment. Wire says locals need to take advantage of swimming, fishing, boating and water skiing opportunities.

“The St. Joe River, at times and it's more than half of the time, does qualify for full body emersion although people will look at the water and say, ‘I'm not so sure I want to swim in that.’ So short of spending a day swimming in the rivers, you can do everything else along the river, but again it's that public perception we need to overcome.”

Part of overcoming that perception according to Smith is redeveloping the riverfront areas.

“We’ve been trying to redevelop our downtown. That’s what Harrison Square is all about. Let’s just move it a bit further to the north and go to the rivers. You’ll have a lot more people down here. You’ve seen the development down at Hall’s dock. You’ll have more things like that. We have a lot of land along our riverfronts that’s open, that the city owns.”

Smith acknowledges that this is no easy task. It is costly to build near rivers because of flood fears. He says with the right planning and engineering, those fears can be avoided. Smith says change can begin to take place once people take just a second to head down to the dock for a look.

“If you come to the riverfront, just start taking a look at it. We could develop it. We could open it up for development, recreation, whatever. It's here. It's time we use it.”

RiverFest could be that igniter. Friends of the Rivers will have stations set up for families to learn about how the rivers contribute to Fort Wayne’s quality of life.

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