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A Trip to Little River...From Pillar to Post

Recently I traveled to Fort Wayne for a speaking engagement and some Life Off The Highway wandering. Here’s a little context.

I was invited by the Little River Wetlands Project to come and share my presentation Upstream, Downstream: Sharing the Watershed as part of the group’s Breakfast on the Marsh series. For the past two years, I have been a speaker for the Indiana Humanities' Unearthed campaign, a multiyear thematic statewide initiative that encourages Hoosiers to discover and discuss their relationships with the natural world. The speakers series is just one of many of its initiatives to encourage conversation and help Hoosiers explore how we shape the environment and how the environment shapes us.

Opening slide to the presentation

Arrived on Wednesday evening at Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve, a property of the Little River Wetlands Project (LRWP) and Indiana DNR, located on the southwest edge of Fort Wayne. This was the night before my engagement and I wanted to learn more about the group and its views of land and its namesake stream. Stopped at the Trailhead and decided I was not in the right place. Drove back the lane to the buildings and found a volunteer and staff team harvesting seeds from native plants. Met Aly Munger, Wetland Coordinator, and her group. We visited and then we began walking a trail loop through the woods, past a pond, all while they were harvesting seeds. These will be used to replace the non-native plants that continue to grow in this fertile area. We completed the loop at sunset and I wanted a picture from the Marsh, different than the many pictures I have taken of the prairie through the years. Aly and I went to the Indiana Wesleyan University Campus Center nearby and met other LRWP staff members. Then worked with the campus staff and got everything setup for the next day.

Sunset over Eagle Marsh adjacent to Little River, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Afterwards, I drove into the city meet my dear friends and overnight hosts, Tim and Melanie, at Junk Ditch Brewing Company. Great space in a repurposed old Korte Paper Warehouse. Service was attentive but not intrusive. I sampled some beers and settled on the Officer 53 Belgian Witbier. We enjoyed an appetizer Pretzel & Pub Cheese while we talked and talked, just catching up. I asked the server about the place’s history and he knew a little. I suggested that the story be added to its menu in some fashion, because it is one more thing that sets it apart from other establishments, especially chains.

Melanie ordered Salmon for dinner while Tim and I each ordered Chuck Roast Gnocchi| Gochujang, Brown Butter, Slow Egg, Chives, Sesame Seed. It was outstanding. After eating the meat and pasta, I couldn’t resist the remaining gravy in the bowl. I asked the waiter for fresh bread and he gladly brought two slices toasted and the three of us wiped the bowl clean. We seriously suggested to the server that the fresh bread be added to this entree as a ‘chaser,’ as the diner gets nearer the end. It would

be unusual and fun. Since I teach Cultural Heritage

Tourism, this was a real treat!

On Thursday morning we had a great crowd that was interested and engaged. We even set up more chairs than planned. Aly had invited me to speak but we rearranged dates a couple of times and today she had a teaching conflict. Instead Amy Silva, the group’s executive director, served as my host. During my remarks, I challenged our group to consider these questions:

  • What are our personal and community histories with water and the adjacent land?

  • What is our perspective on water and do we create space for others who see it differently?

  • What role can and should collaboration play in our policies and practices?

  • How does our collective knowledge affect our choices?

  • Where do our conversations go from here?

We examined the multiple purposes of watersheds and how actions of daily living affect the way we and others interact with them. The small group discussions generated some different conversations. There were additional conversations afterwards which is always a good sign. Some very interesting ideas emerged. This is series is designed for an older, retired crowd so shifting our thinking about community engagement was paramount and we discussed that as well.

Indiana 8-Digit Hydrologic Unit Watersheds

(US Geologic Survey)

Once we finished, I was right next to the US24/I-69 interchange but I couldn’t bring myself to drive home on the interstate so I headed west on US24. Turned south between Roanoke and Huntington and cut cross-country. Stopped on a bridge for a picture of the remaining leaves cradling the Little River we had just spent the morning discussing.

Little River near Roanoke, on County Road 200 East, Huntington County

This stream may be little in name but not in its history. It is only 23 miles long and was created by the Maumee Torrent a catastrophic draining of Lake Maumee, the ancestor of present-day Lake Erie that occurred approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago during the late Wisconsin glaciation. It happened when the waters of Lake Maumee, possibly in response to an advance of the ice front at the eastern end of the lake, overtopped a low spot in the Fort Wayne Moraine, which was a deposit of glacial debris that acted as a natural dam at the site of present-day Fort Wayne. This unleashed a massive flow of water that scoured a one- to two-mile-wide outlet running southwest to the Wabash River near present-day Huntington. The stream became a major portage between the ‘three rivers’ of Fort Wayne and the Wabash River, a major artery into heartland of Indiana and the Midwest. Later the Wabash & Erie Canal was built along this stream connecting the two major water bodies. (Some parts from Wikipedia)

Continuing south, the Huntington/Roush Reservoir became my next obstacle. I turned northwest on US224 towards Huntington. Went south on SR5 and then west again on SR124. Traveled across Huntington and Wabash counties. Dean Eppley was a former Indiana Corn Growers Association president when I worked for it and he lived on this road between SR15 and SR13. As I drove by, I saw a truck moving in the barn lot. I drove past but decided to turn around and stop. Instead, the pickup turned my direction and I waved it down. It was Barry Eppley, Dean and Carolyn’s son, who I went with on the State Fair Achievement trip in high school! We talked a few minutes and I learned that his dad died last January. Dean was a good rural and agricultural leader. It was nice to catch up with Barry. I traveled west on SR 124 into Miami County and came upon some interesting concrete posts that I stopped to photograph as I have begun doing the past several years.

I had decided earlier that I was going to visit the Seven Pillars of the Mississinewa near Peru. I have several pictures from more recent visits, but none are good. Today was the day as the skies were blue, the leaves were off, the sunlight was in the right place and timing was right. I arrived at the south bank of the Mississinewa River, across the stream from the Seven Pillars, a sacred formation to the Miami Indians. Locally called ‘The Cliffs,’ this breathtaking formation was created over the centuries as wind and water eroded the limestone, carving rounded buttresses and alcoves into the north bluff of the river.

Seven Pillars of the Mississinewa, Miami County

These are the pictures I wanted of this space. The Miami Indians own the property from where I took the pictures which added to the weight of the site. The Frances Slocum Trail is a road that runs immediately above the pillars and includes three farms with ties to the family of famed composer Cole Porter. Chief Richardville’s house is just west, on the other side of the Mississinewa River, so this is a very historically rich area. The winter quarters of big touring circus groups was just up highway which is why Peru is nicknamed Circus City, USA. Beth and I first learned about all this when we used a paper Miami County Driving Tour that we picked up at the local museum after an overnight stay at Rosewood Mansion Inn.

Circled back into Peru to find lunch and a break from driving. Parked at the old depot, now a community theater, and walked onto the Wabash River bridge for a picture. The winds were brisk, but the nice autumn sun kept the temperatures comfortable. I went across the highway to McClure’s Market/Granary. It was next to a winery building while its orchard is northwest of town on US 31. All are part of the McClure’s Orchard/Winery complex. I’ll be back with friends for a tasting here.

I enjoyed a Pork BBQ sandwich solo and a Triple XXX Root Beer for lunch so I could indulge in the Apple Dumpling with cinnamon ice cream. I enjoyed talking with the two women in the market about Peru. I have some ideas!

McClure's Orchard & Winery, Peru

Drove through town and stopped on the side street to see the Rosewood Mansion Inn. It hasn’t been a B&B for several years although Beth and I stayed there twice, which was rare. Was surprised to see a large “Auction’ sign in the yard next to the main house. The late-November sale includes four historical homes, a church building, and a 3-story artisan art gallery/commercial building! The two main homes are both 8,000+ SF, and one includes a carriage house. They appear to be in good shape, but there is a lot of money required for their upkeep.

Rosewood Mansion, Peru

When Beth and I stayed the second time, we walked a few blocks to the Grant Street Grill, no longer standing. It was honored as an Indiana Beef Backer award winner. I drove past the former site, but could not remember the chef’s name. I called Joyce Wells and then immediately remembered it, Chef Todd Snyder. We talked as I drove home on US31.

So glad I chose this route today. In reality, every day is a good day for a drive through rural Indiana!

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