Return of the Raft Race
For years, people have been asking for the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival to bring back the Raft Race.
Once more of a party on the St. Joseph River than an actual race, the event was one of the big crowd attractions at TRF before being discontinued in 1997 because of high insurance costs, declining participation and other concerns.
After a few years of study and planning, TRF brought back the raft race this summer.
The July 20 event included a new course on the St. Marys River and stricter rules, including a brief raft safety inspection, a requirement that all riders must wear shoes and personal flotation devices, and a ban on alcohol on board. The festival also monitored river water to make sure bacteria counts were at safe levels for anyone who fell in.
Early morning rain delayed the start by an hour, but then the race was on! More than 60 rafts set sail from around Swinney Park on their way toward downtown. Most crews just wanted to have fun, while some competed for $14,000 in prize money.
On Oct. 26 and 27, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive No. 765 chugged through town for the first public excursion runs the engine has made here since 1993.
Nearly all tickets for each day's round-trip run to Lafayette sold within two hours when they went on sale Sept. 1. The grand locomotive pulled about 800 people in 15 vintage passenger cars during each trip, which began and ended along railroad tracks behind the Do it Best headquarters at 6502 Nelson Road between Fort Wayne and New Haven.
Built in 1944 at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, Engine No. 765 originally pulled trains between Fort Wayne and Chicago for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, which later became known as the Nickel Plate Road. The engine was taken out of service in 1958 and placed in 1963 as a monument in Lawton Park.
Volunteers from the rail historical society received approval to remove the deteriorating engine from the park in 1974 so they could restore it. They began operating it in 1979 to pull people on excursion or sightseeing trips, but none of those runs originated in Fort Wayne — until this fall.
Active year for the arts
It was a year of change and growth in the local arts scene.
In May, Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne broke ground on construction of the $1.6 million ArtsLab black box theater, which is being built onto the east side of the Auer Center for Arts and Culture, 300 E. Main St. Arts United works to develop, coordinate and support arts and cultural organizations and programs in northeast Indiana.
ArtsLab, which Arts United officials hope will be completed by mid-January, will allow local arts groups to experiment with innovative artistic programming, including small theatrical productions, music and dance performances, temporary art exhibits, and educational programs.
Arts United also searched for a new president after announcing Aug. 9 that longtime leader Jim Sparrow had accepted a job as president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County in North Carolina.
Other big arts news in 2013 included:
*The Embassy Theatre announced a $10 million fundraising campaign to pay for renovating four floors of the adjoining former Indiana Hotel and other undeveloped areas of the building. The work would create a two-story-high ballroom and rooftop garden, studio and rehearsal space, classrooms, history center, and improved public access and concessions.
*The Fort Wayne Museum of Art welcomed an exhibit of about 50 smaller pieces by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly during its “Summer of Glass” exhibits June 29-Sept. 29.
*It was a great year for local concert fans, who had the chance to see stars such as Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Elton John, Barry Manilow and Kid Rock at Memorial Coliseum, and the Avett Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Alice Cooper, Steely Dan and Loretta Lynn at the Embassy Theatre.
Births on high
For the first time in three years, peregrine falcons successfully hatched chicks in the nest box on the roof of One Summit Square. Moxie and her mate, Jamie, jumped right into family life, too, hatching four chicks around May 1.
Moxie, a 2-year-old bird from Canton, Ohio, and Jamie, a 3-year-old male from Port Sheldon, Mich., took up residence in Fort Wayne in 2012, but Moxie was too young to lay eggs.
Their flock soon had names — male Maverick and females Electra, Skyler and Soara — thanks to a naming contest sponsored by Indiana Michigan Power and won by students at Deer Ridge, Harris, Whispering Meadows and St. Vincent de Paul elementary schools in Fort Wayne.
Both the federal government and state of Indiana listed peregrine falcons as an endangered species decades ago because exposure to pesticides caused a steep drop in their population.
Indiana started a peregrine falcon reintroduction program in 1991, and it has been successful. Statewide, a record 44 chicks were checked and banded for identification this year.
Peregrines recovered enough to be taken off the federal endangered species list in 1999. They remained an endangered species in Indiana until the Indiana Department of Natural Resources took them off the list in October.
In late June, the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne, also known as Downtown Rotary, announced a project to seek sponsors to install 100 Little Free Libraries around Fort Wayne as part of the club's 100th anniversary in 2015.
The Little Free Library concept, which started in Wisconsin, operates on the idea of “take a book, leave a book.” People are encouraged to take a book to read and to leave one of their books for someone else to enjoy.
The club hopes to partner with local nonprofit organizations, businesses, schools, churches, families and individuals to sponsor Little Free Libraries around the city. The club opened the first Little Free Library, which resembles a large birdhouse, in front of Washington Elementary School downtown on West Washington Boulevard.
About a dozen Little Free Libraries had been started at various locations by mid-December. You can find the one closest to you by going to our map at news-sentinel.com. We will update the map each time we learn of a new location.
To sponsor a Little Free Library, contact Candace Schuler at 418-6142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.