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WMS students float down the Wabash River

By Mandy Underwood

Early in the morning on Friday, Sept. 6, volunteers from the Wabash River Defenders were busy preparing for two buses full of over 100 Wabash Middle School seventh graders to arrive for an educational river float beginning at the Lagro Bridge.

Mike Beauchamp, president of the Wabash River Defenders was there when the idea of the Defenders was born.

“In the little Lagro café, 10 years ago this spring,” Beauchamp told The Paper of Wabash County about when it all started.

“We didn’t know each other, but there were four or five of us that were real river rats, and we got to talking over coffee and we said ‘This river is the greatest thing and we need to give some help to this river and clean it up. We thought, with the five of us, we might get our friends involved and get 25 people and start to work on this river. By July 2019, we had 400 people in this river from Huntington County to Miami County.” 

The River Defenders continue to grow and do good for the Wabash River.

“We have taken 130 tons of debris out of that river, including over five thousand tires,” said Beauchamp.

With all of the success of this team, the River Defenders continue to widen the scope of their services.

“This is kind of my baby,” said Jen Rankin, vice president of the Wabash River Defenders.

“We decided we wanted to do more than just cleanup, so we decided to focus on water quality. With that, we applied and received a 319 grant from IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management). Since we got that grant, we have been doing water testing and data entry, and analysis, getting to the point where our next phase will be implementation of programs,” she said.

“In that grant, though, some of the criteria include an education program.”

Rankin told The Paper that the River Defenders had noticed that some other counties had been taking students out onto their rivers for educational floats. These counties do multiple schools and the entire program usually lasts a week.

Since this is a first-time endeavor for the Wabash River Defenders, they decided to start small, but plan on adding a school/float trip each year until they have included all schools.

“We knew we wanted to focus on these kids. They’re like sponges, and they are so fun to work with,” Rankin said.

After students arrived and had a warm welcome from Beauchamp, they learned river safety from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) park rangers with a presentation on how to properly wear lifejackets. They also heard a presentation from Jason Kissell of Acres Land Trust about the history of the Wabash River.

There to observe and see the students off was Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan.

“We’re very excited for this great opportunity for our kids. Wabash City Schools has a vision of building a legacy of opportunity for all. And when Mike Beauchamp brought this idea to us, we were like, ‘Absolutely,’ said Callahan.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids to get out. The river is a wonderful natural resource, it’s why we’re all here in the first place, and we often overlook it. Mike and the River Defenders have done a great job of cleaning up the river and bringing attention to the ecology of the river.”

Callahan also expressed his concern for safety but expressed that he felt like with all of the volunteers, the USACE park rangers teaching safety, and the quality of the rafts, that everything would go smoothly and the experience would be enjoyable for all of the students participating.

The students floated a little under three miles and stopped at multiple shuls along the way to learn about habitat and wildlife from DNR, and a lesson on how water is collected for testing and data, learning about visual water quality indicators where the students were able to dip into the water and extract invertebrates to study.

The trip was ended with lunch on Mike Beauchamp’s property.

Posted on 2019 Sep 10