What is the director of a soil and water conservation district in Indiana doing riding down the St. Mary's River in downtown Ft. Wayne, instead of beating the drums in the rural countryside to whip up interest in soil conservation?
Greg Lake does that too, but the veteran of the Allen County SWCD and a farmer himself knows that to get real change, urban people who use water must understand its value, and how it can be improved, just as much as farmers need to understand it.
He doesn't claim to be the pied piper, but last summer Lake and the Allen SWCD set up a tent on one of the pedestrian bridges in Ft. Wayne, and began cooking food for people. Those who ate also went for a boat ride on the rivers that converge downtown – a rare event since many people live their whole lives there and never get close to the rivers, let alone be on them in a boat.
Piloting the boat was Dan Wire, an urbanite, associate supervisor, and executive director of the Tri-State Watershed Alliance. Through their collaborative efforts, Lake, supervisors of the district, staff and Wire were able to get 4,000 people onto the river in two-and-a-half days during a downtown festival last summer.
The neat thing, Wire says, is that he didn't hear anyone coming off his boat wishing they had not went, or saying negative things about the rivers. The way to turn around attitudes is to let them see for themselves, Wire says.
Lake and Wire hope to get more people on the river beginning next spring. Docks are removed during the winter months, so there is no boating. But come spring Wire will be on the river again. He hopes to take urban leaders, but also farmers and important leaders in the rural community for rides in his boat.
"We need them to see that the rivers are valuable and ae in much better shape than many believe," he says.