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Pilot project could determine approach to restoring Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront

Dan Wire, front, riparian manager for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, spread ryegrass seed to prevent bare ground from eroding from the St. Marys River riverbank in Bloomingdale Park. KayeC Jones, back, rakes the soil to prepare it for grass seeding. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This photo shows the bare ground left after volunteers removed invasive honeysuckle bushes from a stand of trees in Bloomingdale Park on the north side of the St. Marys River in downtown Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This old paving brick from a brick street is among the construction debris along the north bank of the St. Marys River in Bloomingdale Park in downtown Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
The protruding portion of this riverbank will be removed to restore some of the natural curve in the St. Marys River in the Bloomingdale Park area in downtown Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Dan Wire, riparian manager for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, points out steel cables and other construction debris along the north bank of the St. Marys River in downtown Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Construction debris dumped along Fort Wayne's rivers downtown includes large concrete chunks as well as smaller items, such as paving bricks. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

It doesn’t look like much right now — just a stand of trees rising from bare soil. But the small area in Bloomingdale Park represents a pilot project for how Fort Wayne may reclaim its riverfront.

“This project right here is our test,” said Dan Wire, a longtime local rivers expert and advocate who in January started work with the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department as its riparian manager. A riparian area includes a river and its banks.

With funding from the local option income tax increase approved last year by Fort Wayne City Council, the parks department plans to invest $4 million over the next five years to restore local riverbanks in the downtown area, Wire said.

The 1.8-acre site in Bloomingdale Park on the north side of the St. Marys River, just west of the Wells Street bridge, will be where Wire and parks officials figure out the best way to get restoration work done.

As of Wednesday, about 237 volunteers have worked on the project, Wire said. They cut down invasive honeysuckle bushes, sent the branches and trunks through a wood chipper, treated the honeysuckle stumps to prevent re-growth and removed garbage and debris.

Using volunteers not only saves money and allows riverfront funding to go further, Wire said. It also connects people with the river and encourages them to make greater use of local streams for recreation and enjoyment.

Through the volunteers’ help on the Bloomingdale Park project, more than 15 tons of honeysuckle bushes were removed, opening up a view to the river from the Rivergreenway path through the park.

“Nothing grows under honeysuckle,” Wire said.

The fast-growing, bushy plant quickly shades out all plants underneath it, leaving bare soil that can be washed into the river during a rain, he said. Having mainly only one plant growing beneath the trees also means there is only one food source for animals and birds rather than a natural mix of plants.

Wire and riparian staff member KayeC Jones planted annual ryegrass Wednesday on the newly cleared ground, which temporarily will hold the soil in place and prevent erosion.

Completing work on this test site will include keeping the existing trees and replanting around them with native plants and shrubs, which will provide a healthier variety of vegetation for people, animals and birds, Wire said.

The project, which the parks department hopes to put out to bid by the end of May, also will include excavation work to remove a portion of the north riverbank to restore a more natural curve to the bend in the river, he said.

It appears part of the curve was filled in with concrete chunks, paving bricks and other construction debris, possibly to prevent erosion of the riverbank, Wire said.

After the bank has been cut back, large, natural boulders will be placed along the water’s edge to prevent the St. Marys from eroding the riverbank, he said. The ground then will be planted with native plants.

Wire said the parks department will evaluate the approach used on this project, learn what worked and use it on future riverbank restoration projects, Wire said.

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