Indiana State University Newsroom

Faculty, students paddle for sustainability

September 17, 2010

With fog rising from the water, early on a Sunday morning (Sept. 12) kayaks and canoes slipped into the Wabash River.

"I love canoeing," said Dorothy Rosene, a senior earth and environmental systems major from Terre Haute. "I've never canoed on the Wabash before."

That was the point of the early morning trip on the Wabash.

"Part of our purpose was to raise awareness of the Wabash River as a recreational river," said Jim Speer, Indiana State University associate professor of earth and environmental systems. "The Wabash River is a great resource and has a lot of historical interest."

Fishermen and air boats now ply the river that once was the lifeblood of Terre Haute bringing commerce to the city. Only rarely can a canoeist or kayaker be found on the tree-lined waters.

"People mostly ignore it now except when they're passing over it or it's flooded," said Eric Anderson, Indiana State psychology instructor.

Steamboats used to ply the river to move goods up and down stream making the river an arrival point for visitors and a focus for Terre Haute residents.

"We're used to seeing the city from the high ground," said. "Seeing it from the river is getting to be a rare experience."

But the professors -including a consortium from Indiana State, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Ivy Tech Community College - see the river as once again being economically valuable.

"If we can promote the recreational aspect of this river, we can gain economic benefit from it while we preserve it and the surrounding areas," Speer said. "Both of these driving factors are important for an area to be sustainable."

Terre Haute's 6,000-acre Riverscape plans seek to turn the river into a destination for not only canoeists, but hikers and naturalists with the surrounding wetlands. In June of 2010, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that the state would acquire 43,000 acres located in the flood plain of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek. The land would be used to benefit wildlife, public recreation and the environment creating a green corridor along the Wabash River.

"I was surprised by how nice a river it is to paddle," said Speer. "When we put out in the morning, it was glassy smooth and a great paddling experience. It is amazing that, in the heart of our city, we have such a natural resource where we can get away from the busy everyday world."

Rosene said she thinks the university needs to have a boathouse with canoes and kayaks for students to use on the river.

"I would definitely participate in trips like that," she said.

Indiana State English Professor Tom Derrick paddles a canoe on the Wabash River. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

A student carries a canoe down to the Wabash River. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Students and faculty discuss the paddling trip before embarking on the Wabash River. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or