62 Tons: Wabash River Defenders celebrate a cleaner waterway with 62 Ton RiverFest

by Aaron Johnson

One might wonder, “What kind of benefit can come from having a cup of coffee in a small-town café?” The following is a story that Mike Beauchamp might use to answer that question.

“I went out to the Lagro Café one day and decided to have a cup of coffee,” Beauchamp said. “All of the sudden I’m in a roundtable with a bunch of river rats.”

Beauchamp uses the term “river rats” as a term of endearment, as he describes himself as such.

The “river rats” talked and talked, and soon enough, an idea with a plan behind it developed. “I tell you what, one thing led to another,” Beauchamp said. “We said, ‘We ought to clean this river up,’ and you know before it was all done we had designed this idea like Adopt-a-Highway.”

The group came up with an idea to help clean out the river: a clean up revolution. Before long in their conversation, they ironed out the details of an event that would yield more trash than any of them could imagine.

“We got the idea to have 20 teams each clean up a mile of the river: one team for each mile,” Beauchamp said, “and that’s what we did.”

Four years later, on July 26, a celebration was held in Paradise Springs Historical Park. This celebration was to acknowledge the completion of three successful cleanouts of the Wabash River. The Wabash River Defenders (WRD) started the cleanout event in 2011, with nearly 400 participants in its first year.

Steve Johnson, executive director of the Wabash County United Fund and volunteer of the River Defenders, helped in the preparation of each of these cleanouts. After three years of cleaning out the river from Huntington County on the east, to the Miami County border on the west, the River Defenders planned for a change.

“We had the three extremely successful cleanup events,” Johnson said. “We knew the volume of the material was going down, and we thought it might be a really good time to just have a celebration to recognize the milestone.”

The WRD Committee knew that this celebration was worth the time and effort, as in the last three years they spent 1,000 man and woman days removing debris from the river. In the three cleanups alone, the Defenders compiled 62 tons of waste, ranging in size from candy wrappers to tires to the front end of a school bus. In honor of the amount of waste collected from the river, the committee decided to call the event the “62 Ton RiverFest.”

Posted on 2014 Jul 29