Abigail King, vice president of Save Maumee Grassroots Organization, will be celebrating Earth Day by loading up 10 canoes and paddling 141 miles downriver to Lake Erie.
King said she began organizing Earth Day celebrations in 2005, planting native plants on the riverbanks and cleaning up trash. What was first limited to a gathering in front of her home on Niagara Drive grew to other areas of the local rivers and waterways. It wasn't long before the group was pulling out 2 tons of trash every spring.
Since 2005 the all-volunteer organization has removed over 12 tons of trash from Fort Wayne's Maumee, St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers and many feeder streams. They have planted more than 2,000 native trees, planted approximately 900 pounds of Indiana Department of Natural Resources approved native riparian seed, installed 16,000 square feet of biodegradable erosion control mats, and harvested 76 pounds of native riparian seed to plant on local riverbanks. The group has grown, and last December they applied for nonprofit status. They hope to soon be a bona fide 501(c)(3).
In the past several years King said Eagle Marsh wetland and the city of Fort Wayne have held their own Earth Day celebrations, so this year Save Maumee decided to do something different. The planning started in October. Initially they had hoped to launch 18 canoes, but a week-long commitment is a long time and the final number is now 10 canoes with 20 people.
The Boy Scouts of America are allowing them to use their canoes. Members not riding in the canoes are taking turns setting up the campsites for those on the river.
King said the canoe trip will serve three purposes. They want to GPS-locate areas of trash, erosion and tile, and those that would be good for boat launches. Secondly they will educate the public along the way through on-site programs on water pollution and improvements. She has experts coming each day to talk about different topics, anything from beekeeping to bird watching. They will record all the questions from the public and then take them to the experts in those areas for answers. Thirdly they want to make people aware of the importance of vegetation along the river.
“Seventy-five feet is a good buffer zone, but 200 feet is much better,” King said.
King is serious about this issue. She followed U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-3rd District) from a meeting she was speaking at to talk to him about it.
“I started eyeballing him and following him all around because I wanted to get him to myself so I could talk to him,” King said.
She ended up walking him to his car and handed him literature about the importance of these buffer zones. She wanted to change a new federal levee law that said river levees must be stripped of vegetation to help prevent flooding. The law had been enacted shortly after Hurricane Katrina. King saw that legislation as something counter-productive to preserving the rivers because vegetation along the banks plays an important role in preventing soil erosion, and helps filter runoff before it reaches the waterways. Apparently her persistence paid off as Stutzman introduced a bill to challenge the levee law. That bill has passed in the House and is now under consideration in the Senate.
People who would like to paddle along with the group are invited to do so, but the group trip is full. They will start their journey at 9 a.m. April 18 at Smith and Engle Road. For more information go to SaveMaumee.Org on the web or send email to Abby@SaveMaumee.Org.