2015 River Summit shows river development progress

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Those at this year’s River Summit found out that river development is more of a reality than some might believe.

The Tri-State Watershed Alliance is hosting the three day event, which kicked-off Wednesday. The summit is designed to bring agriculture and urban groups together to discuss, experience, and celebrate water.

The week is filled with events highlights the rivers and water ways. There are plenty of free events and tours the rest of the week that allow people to learn more about the local rivers. Click here for more information.

“We can improve the riverfront downtown but to really improve the water quality we have to go out to the watersheds and improve the watersheds,” Keith Bowers, the president and founder of Biohabitats, said. Bowers’ firm is involved in Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront plan. He was also a guest speaker during the summit at the Grand Wayne Center Wednesday night.

Bowers comment goes hand-in-hand with why tours were given Wednesday at Camp Scott, a wetland on Fort Wayne’s southeast side that stores and treats stormwater runoff.

“I like hearing more about the whole watershed mentality, I find it interesting,” said Lauren Zuber, who is eager to see river development. “It’s easy living in the more urban area of Fort Wayne to forget where our water comes from.”

Bowers wasn’t the only speaker Wednesday. The night ended with Chad Pregracke, who has made a living cleaning 23 rivers – most notably the Mississippi – and said Fort Wayne is on the right track to taking its concepts and building them.

“In a town like this where everybody knows everybody, if you can all get on the same page, you can move things a lot faster along,” said Pregracke, who is a fan of the concepts the city is considering, such as a promenade. “If you do those things by the river people will come. They always have and they always will.”

While Pregracke’s words could have easily motivated some to go out immediately and start building a business along a river’s shore, Wire said the Illinois native showed the nearly hundred people in attendance that Fort Wayne can handle the task and is on the right track.

“One of the key messages Chad Pregracke brought was people want to help,” said Wire. “People have pride in their rivers, they want to get involved and we know that here.”

Pregracke has pulled countless refrigerators, tires, and millions of pounds of garbage out of American rivers. Fort Wayne’s rivers aren’t nearly as dirty, but keeping the rivers clean will always be a task, and a minor one at times. Wire, who has become Fort Wayne’s face for riverfront development, said what needs to be done next is making the rivers more attractive.

“Coming up this summer we’re going to see events like we’ve never seen before and that starts with dragon boats,” Wire said, referencing River Palooza on May 30. “We’re going to start seeing the rivers get groomed to where they’re aesthetically pleasing. This riverfront thing is going to happen this time. It’s not just talk.”

There is also interest in riverfront develop in other regional communities. Those include New Haven, Auburn, and Bluffton. Decatur and Defiance had booths Wednesday night with renderings of potential river developments in their communities.

The summit continues Thursday with a day filled with information and education sessions at the Grand Wayne Center. The focus of the day will be to better understand the current state of the rivers as well as the opportunities our rivers offer for economic growth and community building. It cost $25 to get into the summit on Thursday.

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