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Catching up with Dan Wire and Friends of the Rivers

Waterways advocate caps off eventful year

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Dan Wire has had a busy week.

Heck, he’s had a busy year.

When we attempt to catch up with Wire — “point man” for the organization Friends of the River and a tireless advocate for Fort Wayne’s waterways — he’s in the midst of serving as moderator for the 2011 Rivers Summit, a two day event focusing on issues surrounding Fort Wayne’s rivers and featuring local, national, and regional speakers and guests.

Just days before that, he participated in the 2nd annual Riverfest at IPFW.

It was last year about this time when we first talked to Wire (we featured him in FWR #153), shortly after Friends of the River was launched and awarded a grant of $25,000 annually for the next three years in an effort to improve the rivers.

And like we said, since then, he’s been busy…

“I’m amazed at what’s happened in the last 12 months,” he says. “It’s just phenomenal. I have to look down just to make sure my feet are still on the ground.”

The common factor behind all these organizations and events Wire is involved in is to get the community to look at our rivers as a source of recreation. Wire was born and raised on the St. Joe, just north of Northside high school. Since returning to Fort Wayne over 20 years ago, he estimates that he’s served on every water-related board or commission with the city. Last year, Wire told us that he’s “got over half-a-century goofing around on St Joe, St Mary and Maumee rivers.”

And apparently, he’s not the only one who thinks “goofing around” on Fort Wayne’s rivers is something we should explore. “We’ve got three different initiatives out there that are all seriously taking a look at what we can do locally, in Fort Wayne, along our waterfront, how to develop it and how it can become an economic benefit,” he says.

“What I think that what Riverfest has done in the past two years, and what the River Summit has done over the last 24 hours, is to put a crack in that wall that has allowed the enthusiasm of the public to bubble out and to show that there’s a real interest in looking at some opportunities to grow our water assets.”

One of the things these initiatives has been doing is looking at how other communities have capitalized on their waterfronts. The keynote speaker for the 2011 Rivers Summit was Ann Coulter (no, not that Ann Coulter), one of the people instrumental in a recent effort in Chattanooga, Tennessee to successfully turn that community’s waterfront into a viable asset. She’s since worked with Memphis, Knoxville, and other communities on similar projects.

Wire highlights three important things Coulter said during her visit. The first was that she had never been in a community the size of Fort Wayne that hadn’t really done anything with their rivers.

The second: “When we took her on a pontoon ride, she said ‘the most beautiful thing about Fort Wayne is that you have everything on the river,” Wire says. “You’ve got nature, you’ve got an urban environment, you’ve got points where we can get on the water…”

And finally, she told Wire that Fort Wayne hadn’t “ruined” the rivers.

It’s this last point that Wire says he encounters regularly — the perception that the water quality here is especially bad. He points out that the rivers were regularly used for boating, kayaking, and canoeing up through the 70s, when the water quality really was much worse than it is now. It’s only in the last couple decades that recreation on the rivers has fallen off.

But while much of the focus is on the recreational possibilities of the rivers, the range and diversity of speakers and topics at the River Summit suggest that there’s something “bigger” going on — a few other topics include flood plains, agriculture, and watershed issues.

This is because, as Wire see it, we need to take an holistic approach to whatever river front development we eventually pursue. “When we look at what’s going to be our long range plan for our water resources, there are a couple burning questions in the community’s mind — what’s the water quality, and what are the issues with flooding?” Wire explains. “So, if we want to develop our rivers, we have to look at those. How is this or that particular plan going to hinder water quality? Is it going to help or hinder the flooding situation”

“We have to look alot more than an urban environment,” he continues. “We have to look at the entire watershed. We need to look at all the headwaters that come in our rivers, what are we doing to those both with urban and agricultural settings?”

Those are essential questions for any plan the community eventually chooses to pursue. “As we look at putting some public money into some works projects, we want to see how that’s going to benefit residents not only in Fort Wayne but Northeast Indiana. How can we make sure that what we invest in here is going to help the entire region prosper, and that’s why the River Summit has such a diverse range of speakers and topics.”

Wire says there are several river related events this summer, including regular pontoon rides from the dock at Hall’s Gas House and canoe and kayak rentals from Fort Wayne Outfitters, and September 10 brings the River Regatta, the first ever rowing crew event in Fort Wayne. Meanwhile, Wire says, they’ll be… well, busy. Busy with planning and raising awareness, and hearing what the community has to say. “If the planning process is done correctly, and we get community input, this is going to be a long range effort,” Wire says. “We need a plan in place that future generations can adhere to.”

(though the 2011 River Summit is done, the web site [riversummit.org] and Facebook page are still up, and offer links and contact information).

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