Frequently Asked Questions
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Eight feet was the standard for trails in the 1980's when the downtown portion of the Rivergreenway was built. Current standards recommend that trails be between 10-14 feet wide.
Generally no, only maintenance, utility and emergency vehicles are allowed to drive on the Rivergreenway. The only motorized vehicles that are allowed by trail users on the Rivergreenway are Segways and personal mobility devices for disabled persons, such as electric wheelchairs.
Historic Fort Wayne was originally built in 1976 to commemorate the nation's bicentennial. It was run as a living history museum where visitors were taken back in time to 1816 as they watched re-enactors go about the daily life of soldiers and their families who lived within or near the fortification.
Currently, a group of volunteers open the Old Fort for military re-enactments several times a year. This group, along with Fort Wayne Parks Department, maintain the fort's structures. The land on which this replica sits is prone to flooding and was not strategically suited for warfare, thus no US military outpost was ever built on this spot. Find out more about upcoming events here: http://www.oldfortwayne.org.
Many people think rivers flow from north to south, but Fort Wayne's rivers are great examples of rivers that don't flow in the direction you think they might. The St. Joseph River begins in Hillsdale County, Michigan. It flows southeast into Ohio where it turns and flows southwest to Fort Wayne.
The St. Mary's River begins near Celina, Ohio. It flows northwest into Fort Wayne where it meets the St. Joe River near Headwaters Park. The two rivers combine to form the Maumee River. It flows in a northeasterly direction and ends at Toledo where it dumps into Lake Erie. The Maumee River is the largest tributary to the Great Lakes.
Yes. The St. Joseph, St. Mary's and Maumee Rivers are the rivers we see in the downtown area. But Fort Wayne is also near the Eel River. The Eel River begins just south of Huntertown and flows in a southwesterly direction. It does not flow into or through the Fort Wayne City Limits. The Little River, also known as the Little Wabash River, begins just southwest of the Ardmore Knolls subdivision in southwest Fort Wayne. If flows southwest and joins the Wabash River just west of Huntington County. The Wabash River is part of the massive river system that eventually joins the Mississippi River and flows to the Gulf of Mexico.
Riverfront Fort Wayne is focusing on better using the three rivers that flow through downtown.
So some of Fort Wayne’s rivers flow generally to the north and east and others flow to the south and west?
Correct. Fort Wayne sits on what is known as the St. Lawrence continental divide that separates the Great Lakes Basin from the Gulf of Mexico watershed. Although the land around Fort Wayne is fairly flat, the city is actually on a small ridge that resulted from receding glaciers that covered the area in the Ice Age.
A watershed is an area of land where all the water that falls and drains off goes into the same place. Watersheds can be large or small. They may cross county, state and national boundaries. In addition, there may be watersheds within watersheds. For example, the downtown Fort Wayne is in the Lower St. Joseph River watershed, which is in the St. Joseph River watershed, which is part of the Maumee River watershed, which is part of the Lake Erie watershed, which is part of the Great Lakes watershed. Rainwater that falls from the roof of a downtown building could eventually end up in Lake Erie.
As Fort Wayne's rivers move, they collect soil and sediment that is washed from farm fields and debris that is washed from developed areas when it rains. You may have noticed that after a heavy rain, the rivers look even more brown than when it hasn't rained for a while. This is because of the kind of soil we have in northeastern Indiana. The soil is made up of very tiny particles that tend to float easily. When the sun shines on the river, the soil tends to soak up the light rays rather than reflecting back the sun and sky.
In areas of the country where the soil is sandy, river water is clearer. That's because sand is made up of larger, heavier particles that settle out of the water. Where riverbeds are made of sand the water reflects back more sunlight and sky, so the water appears to be blue.
The answer depends on what you mean by clean. With the help of everyone in Fort Wayne, we can significantly reduce the amount of floating trash and debris in our rivers. Never throw trash or cigarette butts in the street or in a parking lot. Use recycling containers for plastic, glass, metal and paper. If left on the streets, all of these items may be washed into a storm sewer when it rains. Then they end up in the rivers.
Reducing bacteria in our rivers requires that we all work together to improve public and private sewer systems and that businesses follow the law when discharging any kind of wastewater. However, some sources of bacteria such as wildlife cannot be controlled.
Agricultural chemicals and sediment that come from farm fields can be reduced if farmers use practices to filter those pollutants out of the runoff coming from their fields.
While our rivers will never be completely clear and pure, we can do a lot to make them cleaner.
Fort Wayne's rivers have always been at the heart of our community. Originally the rivers were used for transportation, as a source of food, and, of course, as a water supply for drinking, bathing and other uses essential for life. Settlements grew up along the rivers that became the cities we know today.
Now people are attracted to our rivers for their beauty, the abundance of wildlife along the riverbanks and for the ever-changing scenery they provide. We still use the St. Joseph River as the source for drinking water for some 250,000 people in the Fort Wayne area, and our rivers are used for recreation such as boating and kayaking. Because rivers are natural systems, they also provide a place for rainwater to go when it runs off our homes, businesses, streets, and properties.
Although swimming in Fort Wayne's rivers is not prohibited, there are health and safety concerns that discourage people from doing so.
Water quality in Fort Wayne is affected by both human activities and natural events. Development of neighborhoods, buildings, parking lots and roads can all affect the quality of water that flows into our rivers. Farming may cause sediment and chemicals to enter our water. Large volumes of quickly flowing runoff can erode stream banks, damage streamside vegetation, and widen stream channels and can contribute sediment to our rivers. Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), storm water discharges, failing septic systems and runoff are major pollutant contributors. All of these sources may contribute pollutants that can affect your health if you swim in affected waters.
When river levels are low, it is possible to see some of the items that have been tossed into the rivers over the years. Used appliances, park benches, tires, scrap metal, car parts – all of these items can present hazards for swimmers. Fort Wayne's public swimming pools and splash pads or private lakes and ponds are safer swimming options.
Urban runoff and storm water are large pollutant contributors to Fort Wayne's rivers. The porous and varied terrain of natural landscapes like forests, wetlands, and grasslands trap rainwater and snowmelt and allow it to filter slowly into the ground. Runoff tends to reach receiving waters gradually. Storm sewer systems have been installed to quickly channel this runoff from roads and other impervious surfaces. Runoff gathers speed once it enters the storm sewer system and empties into a stream.
Surveys by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources have found a variety of sport and non-game fish in the rivers. Saugeye, a walleye-sauger hybrid, have been found along with largemouth and smallmouth bass, white and black crappie, bluegill, catfish, river chub, creek chub, yellow bullhead and longear sunfish. Non-game fish such as carp and suckers account for most of the identified species.
The Indiana Department of Health publishes a fish consumption advisory indicating which fish are safe to eat and how often. Restricted consumption is recommended for fish that are likely to contain high levels of PCBs and/or Mercury. Visit the site here: http://www.in.gov/isdh/23650.htm
Controlling flooding and protecting public and private property from flood damage is a challenge for many communities located on rivers. Rivers are natural systems and while we humans try to manage the water going to them and contain them, there will always be areas that will be prone to flooding. The best we can do is try to accommodate flood waters by channeling them into natural low and open areas and not allowing development in areas we know are flood-prone.
Over the years, Fort Wayne has experienced multiple devastating flood events, many of which resulted in projects designed to reduce the impact of flooding on public and private property. Flood control measures have included building levees and floodwalls, removing structures from areas in the path of floodwaters and modifying the flow of water by widening water bodies and changing their courses. After major flooding in 1982 and 1985, the City worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers to build 10 miles of higher levees along the three rivers to help protect against higher levels of flooding. In addition, the City acquired many properties where Headwaters Park is now located, opening the area for floodwater storage.
Not really. Dredging might temporarily remove some of the silt on the river bottoms, but because of the type of soils in northeastern Indiana and because our rivers drain huge agricultural areas, the rivers would soon return to their current condition. Dredging would only improve the appearance of our rivers if all soil in the riverbeds was removed down to bedrock. This is not practical due to the depth of material that would need to be removed, the cost and issues with disposal. Dredging to this depth would remove some historic pollutants such as mercury and PCBs, but would temporarily stir up those pollutants causing them to become water borne again and contaminating water downstream. Sediments contaminated with mercury and PCBs would have to be specially treated to contain the pollutants and would have to be disposed of in special landfills designed for hazardous wastes – adding to the cost.
The depth of Fort Wayne's rivers varies according to location and the amount of rain that has fallen. In summer when it is very dry, areas of the rivers, such as just below the St. Joe Dam at Johnny Appleseed Park, may be just a few inches deep. During flood conditions, the Maumee River near the Hosey Dam may be 15 – 17 feet deep. Because the rivers are not clear and it is difficult to see the bottom, people should not wade or swim in the rivers, especially after heavy rains when the depth and current can be uncertain.
Fort Wayne's rivers are designated as waters of the United States. However, depending on how property deeds are written, owners of land along the rivers may own some of the stream. The City of Fort Wayne owns much of the riverbanks and so has some control over the rivers. Any changes to the rivers or changes in how we use the rivers may require the community to obtain permits from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, or other state and federal agencies. Deciding what to do with our rivers requires a consensus on ideas and bringing many groups, agencies and organizations into the decision-making process.
Fort Wayne's rivers are affected by multiple sources of pollution. The main categories are sediment, nutrients, bacteria/pathogens and chemicals. Here are some of the sources of those pollutants:
Sediment is soil particles. These come from rainwater runoff from farms, from roadways, and from construction sites.
Nutrients include things such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Some amount of nutrients is naturally occurring. Nutrients also enter rivers from farmlands, urban lawns, golf courses and other areas that may be fertilized.
Bacteria and pathogens come from failing septic systems and from rainwater runoff that carries with it bacteria from pet waste and wildlife. Bacteria also come from sewer systems that fill up with rainwater during heavy rains and discharge diluted sewage into the rivers (Combined Sewer Overflows).
Many Midwestern cities, such as Fort Wayne, collect both rainwater runoff and sanitary wastewater in the same set of sewer pipes. These are called "combined sewers." Combined sewers carry sanitary sewage from buildings to the sewage treatment plant when it is not raining, but when it rains, these sewers also carry rainwater runoff. Combined sewer systems began when indoor plumbing became popular in the late 1800s and instead of building new sewers to carry the waste, cities connected house plumbing to the storm drains that already existed.
Sometimes when it rains, combined sewers do not have enough capacity to carry all the rainwater and wastewater or the sewage treatment plant cannot treat all of the combined flow. In this situation, the combined wastewater overflows from the collection system into the nearest body of water -- in Fort Wayne's case, into one of the three rivers -- creating a combined sewer overflow (CSO).
Combined sewers may no longer be constructed and many cities, including Fort Wayne, are now investing in construction projects to reduce the amount of combined sewage that goes into rivers and streams. The City is making extensive efforts to control CSOs and provide information to citizens.
Fort Wayne is investing millions of dollars in improvements to the City's sewer and stormwater management systems to help improve river water quality. Fort Wayne's aging sewer system discharges diluted sewage to our rivers during heavy rains. The bacteria that come from combined sewage are one source of water pollution. Fort Wayne is investing $240 million to upgrade the sewage treatment plant so that it can take and treat more sewage. Construction of new storm sewers will reduce the amount of rainwater that gets into the sanitary sewer system causing overflows, and a large tunnel will be built in the bedrock under Fort Wayne that will store sewage during rainy weather then take it to the sewage treatment plant later when the plant can treat it.
Fort Wayne is also working on reducing pollutants that get into the rivers from rainwater runoff. This runoff picks up trash and other substances such as chemicals, automotive fluids, and bacteria as it flows across hard surfaces such as streets and parking lots. Rainwater runoff then goes directly into our rivers without receiving any kind of treatment. Fort Wayne is implementing programs such as the rain garden program to slow down the rainwater runoff and take out some of the pollutants before the water gets to a river.
If sewers are a big source of water pollution and you know how to fix it, why don’t you do it faster?
Fort Wayne can only improve the sewer system as fast as we can pay for the improvements. Money for the improvements comes from residents of Fort Wayne who use the sewer system. It is essential that the community balances the need to invest in infrastructure with the need to keep sewer rates affordable. If sewer rates are too high, residents and businesses may consider moving out of Fort Wayne.
The federal government in Washington does not offer Cities any funding to help improve sewer systems. Very small federal grants are sometime available for specific projects, but those won't come near the amount needed to fix sewers. Local tax dollars are needed for many other city services such as maintaining streets, providing parks, and paying for police and fire departments to keep us safe.
Did you know that all of the money that governments have to operate and provide services comes from citizens? Government can only provide money to fix things if the government collects the money from people who pay taxes and pay for the services they receive from the government.
Yes! You can have a big impact on the quality of rainwater runoff that flows from your house and yard into our rivers. When it rains, rainwater runs over the lawn and over hard surfaces and picks up whatever it comes into contact with. This rainwater runoff may go into a storm sewer pipe, but it eventually enters a ditch, stream, pond and our rivers without getting any sort of treatment. Therefore, stormwater runoff may carry with it the empty pop bottle you threw out the car window or bacteria from the dog waste left on your lawn. It can pick up and carry the chemicals in the fertilizer you spread or the insecticide you use around the foundation of your house. Although you may have just one house, think of the pollutants that might come from 10 homes, or 100 or 1,000. Every drop of water matters.
The canal was located where the current Nickel Plate Railroad elevation is, just south of Superior Street (originally known as Water Street). The canal route was sold in 1881 and the at-grade Nickel Plate railroad line was then built on the land. In the early 1950s the tracks were raised in this same location after a long campaign to "Elevate The Nickel Plate."
The Three Rivers Festival, River Fest, and the various festivals at Headwaters Park are wonderful ways we include the rivers in community celebrations. Have there been other festivals along the rivers?
Yes, there have been many festivals and fairs that have been held near the rivers. Some of the more notable include the 1865 Indiana State Fair (held on the north bank of the St. Mary's in Lawton Park), and for many years the Allen County Fair was held just west of downtown along the St. Mary's River. The old fairgrounds became Swinney Park.
Yes, the Wells Street Bridge is the oldest bridge over Fort Wayne's rivers. It was built in 1884 to replace an earlier bridge. Before any bridges were built at the site it was one of the primary fords used to cross the St. Mary's River. The second oldest bridge crossing the St. Mary's is the Nickel Plate Railroad Bridge, built 1907 just north of the West Main Street Bridge.
The Three Rivers Filtration Plant was built from 1931 to 1934. It has imposing Collegiate Gothic architecture that overlooks the confluence of the three rivers. The community has continuously invested in this facility with several major expansions. The filtration plant produces 72 million gallons of safe water each day for its customers.
Dwight D. Eisenhower. When Eisenhower was a Lieutenant Colonel he participated in the 1919 Transcontinental Motor Transport Corps Convoy. This was a U.S. Army convoy that followed the Lincoln Highway from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco testing military equipment, and procedures for cross-country travel. It also tested the viability of cross-country trucking and publicized the poor condition of American roads. On a warm night in July, the group camped for the night in Fort Wayne's Lawton Park. The road-weary soldiers used the park's modern swimming pool to cool-off, but few of them had packed swimsuits. The future President's experience on the convoy was a factor in his push to create today's Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
At least five or six forts have been built here, depending on how you count forts. The first fort built near Fort Wayne's rivers (or near the Miami village of Kekionga) was a French fort named Post Miami in 1697. It was located on the important fur-trade route from the Mississippi River valley to Quebec. Post Miami was in the vicinity of West Superior and Van Buren Streets. It was likely rebuilt several times; it is known that it was burned by natives in 1747 and rebuilt. In 1750 the French built a new fort on high ground along the St. Joseph River, near St. Joe Blvd. and Delaware Avenue. This fort fell to the British in 1760 during the French and Indian War. In 1763 the British-controlled fort fell to the natives, opening a long period of exclusively native control of the area. After a series of American attempts to capture Kekionga, General Anthony Wayne established the first Fort Wayne in 1794. The American fort was rebuilt slightly north of its original location in 1800; it was rebuilt again in 1816. All three American forts were located near the current intersection of East Main Street and Clay Street. The remnants of the last fort were demolished in 1852. Today's Historic Fort Wayne on Spy Run Avenue is a 1976 recreation of the 1816 American fort. It is not at the location of any of the historic forts.