Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation

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Indiana Waterways:

Conservation The Art of

Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation

Dan Woodson | White River East of Muncie | White River, Delaware County Tom Woodson | Salt Creek North | Salt Creek, Franklin County Curt Stanfield | Sunset Point | Sugar Creek, Parke County John Kelty | Black River Reflection | Black River, Posey County Avon Waters | Dusk on the Flatrock | Flatrock River, Shelby County

Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation

Artists: John Kelty Curt Stanfield Avon Waters Dan Woodson Tom Woodson

Essayists: Carson Gerber Jason Goldsmith Dr. Jerry Sweeten Juli A. Metzger, Editor John N. Metzger, Designer Avon Waters, Project Manager

Published by The JMetzger Group, 2022

Copyright © 2022 The JMetzger Group

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For permissions contact: / 765-744-4303.

Book and cover design by John N. Metzger, The JMetzger Group

Front cover: Tom Woodson, White River

Back cover, from top: Dan Woodson, Muscatatuck River at Vernon Curt Stanfield, Blackrock Niches

John Kelty: St. Joseph River Avon Waters: Lime Green Tree Screen

ISBN: 979-8-218-00589-4 (Hardback)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2022940218

Printed in The United States

First Edition

This book is dedicated to the women and men of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, whose job it is to study and manage the natural resources of our waterways.

Featured artists:

From left, brothers Dan and Tom Woodson of Muncie, John Kelty of Fort Wayne, Avon Waters of Converse and Curt Stanfield of Rosedale.

Preface 13

Ackowledgements 19

Introduction.......... 20

Essay: Carson Gerber.......... 24

Essay: Dr. Jerry Sweeten 32

Essay: Jason Goldsmith 76

The Woodson Brothers 105

Artist Dan Woodson 108

Artist Tom Woodson 130

Artist Curt Stanfield 152

Artist John Kelty 176

Artist Avon Waters 200 Index 224

Dan Woodson John Kelty Avon Waters Tom Woodson Curt Stanfield Photo: Kelly LaffertyGerber


Artists often begin with an idea but later say the painting had a mind of its own and the piece went in totally another direction. Thus was the case with the Indiana Waterways project. Its evolution gained a momentum of its own. Like the four stages of a butterfly from egg to adult, the metamorphosis from the seed of this themed painting idea began during the COVID-19 pandemic, merely as something for friends to do until society reopened.

In February and March 2020 in the United States, COVID-19 began to change everyone’s daily lives and professional activities. All the artists on the project and “The Art of Conservation,” are members of the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA). Its monthly scheduled outings fell like dominos. Unlike business meetings that switched to online venues, live large outdoor art events like plein air gatherings of artists, didn’t lend themselves to online applications.

Fears of the pandemic forced the community of New Harmony, Indiana to disinvite the IPAPA event, the First Brush of Spring, which for the past 20 years attracted more than 100 artists to the scenic historic town. All the events, exhibitions and gatherings of many other organizations the project artists belonged to also dropped from their calendars.

At the time, the medical and scientific community had few answers about when all of society might return to being able to meet in groups and attend public events. The vaccines had not been developed yet. During the fall of 2020, society had some guidelines to allow people to meet outside or in small groups with spacing and personal protections. By then, most artists used social media or the telephone to stay in touch, forming small circles of friends. This pairing happened organically, based on each cluster’s self-interests. Communication among artists certainly remained broad, but COVID forced many artists to communicate more intentionally with a limited number of other artists, much as they would do on the side at in-person painting events.

Through social media, the group of artists featured in this book found comfort in regular conversation. Isolation from other artists was universal, something some discovered difficult. Not knowing when or if any of our annual events would return to normal in 2020, or into 2021, I asked the four artists in my close circle if they wanted to take on a project to paint Indiana rivers.


The initial idea was intended to facilitate painting alone and then exhibit the collection 18 months later as a group. It was something we could all do if COVID restrictions continued. We could at least share our paintings among ourselves and feel less isolated. The project began in August 2020 with four of the five artists meeting at an outdoor barbecue to flesh out the approach.

Because Dan Woodson in 1998 formed a group of five artists to paint all 92 counties and exhibit them around Indiana, and I had just finished helping IPAPA put together a traveling exhibition, our group had examples to use as blueprints to guide the process. Both of these traveling exhibitions produced publications: a book and an extended catalog for the latter. We agreed to use Dan’s experience as our guide. Within weeks of proposing a group show before we met, the project had now added a book with all 100 paintings, in case a venue on the tour could not show all 100.

Within a month of the barbecue, the president of the Izaak Walton League of America-Indiana Division wanted to help sponsor some of the costs of the project. He saw what we were doing as a way to bring attention to waterway conservation. We could use art to help communicate conservation.

An idea takes shape: From left: Tom Woodson, John Kelty, Avon Waters and Dan Woodson during an August 2020 outdoor barbecue.

Since the advent of photography to record our world, many now consider art decorative, even a luxury item. The Roman Catholic Church once used art to communicate the stories of the Bible to a nearly illiterate public. From the time humans first took a charred stick out of the fire in a cave and drew pictures of great hunts and battles and then used colored mineral and animal blood to paint the images in color, art once was essential to communicate in all human cultures.

Empowered to once again be able to use art for a just social cause, the idea of partnering with more conservationists led to even more changes. By October 2020, we decided to include the entire Indiana waterway system, approximately 65,000 miles to record a minimum of 20 Indiana waterways in multiple seasons.


The decision to communicate conservation required the addition of writers – Indiana writers. One of the best writers of nonfiction, Susan Neville, turned down a request but suggested Jason Goldsmith, whose writing already featured environmental research. Neville, however, stayed on to write an Indiana Humanities grant and act as an advisor. Another environmental writer, Carson Gerber, joined the essay team.

As time passed, we discovered the third essayist, Dr. Jerry Sweeten. For about 20 years, he was involved in a quest to restore the Eel River and had accumulated a mountain of research about habitat improvements after performing even the smallest changes to water condition. He agreed to share his experience using a memoir form. His essay on the Eel River restoration can be considered a blueprint for how any waterway in the Midwest can be restored, given the community’s willpower to demand action.

Goldsmith’s work as a creative non-fiction writer and Gerber’s background of using reporting techniques as an investigative journalist reflect the wide spectrum we artists have in our own styles of art. The three featured essays differ in their approach to their subject: Sweeten’s is scientific with the qualities of a memoir, Gerber’s is about the history of the Izaak Walton League and the work they do with projects such as Save Our Streams (SOS). Goldsmith’s story of the White River basin provides entertainment, but upon further examination, also communicates the historical struggles of the Indigenous Peoples and African American communities, as well as the forgotten rural communities that our economy tends to not address today.


As with the writers, our founding conversations during the August 2020 barbecue recognized how each artist’s working style and artist medium eventually created very different images of the same waterways. The artwork in this book reflects those differences. It moves from tight, well defined, shapes representing what is there, to looser styles and techniques; ending the book with the almost unreal and abstract simplification of the subjects.

The paintings in the book are divided by artist into sections, which include a description of his unique experience. We are not writers, but each of the artists wanted to share something from the 20-month painting period.

Style, medium and approach determined the order of the artists in the book.

Dan Woodson’s artistic training as a sign painter required the same precise technique we learned in school to “stay within the lines.” But his landscapes resist those lessons and his photographic-like detail recaptures a youthful spirit of creativity.

Dan’s magnificent artwork is considered tighter than that of his brother Tom. His work is representative of the early American landscape painters, taking a more traditional approach – a tree can almost look like a photograph. Tom’s work is freer, looser, and closer to the collective painted marks of the French impressionists. Some of Tom’s artworks have more non-traditional use of color in comparison to his brother.

Curt Stanfield works both in the studio from photographs and color studies, and in plein air (painting outdoors) from what he sees before him. His work progresses by using Alla Prima – also known as wet-into-wet paint – and is generally done in one setting. His work in these pages show a free-flow spirit, rich in color and character, a stream of consciousness that uniquely captures the authenticity of Indiana’s waterways.

The choice of watercolor by John Kelty further loosens the image because the method differs from the oil used by the previous three artists. Watercolor pools pigment, casting different effects, overlapping edges that blur and become misshapen. It is transparent, and the paper’s inherent whiteness causes layered pigments to almost glow.


Lastly, my works in pastel are looser yet. Pastel can be used to create almost photographic effects, but my use of heavily textured surfaces and application methods allow me to dance on the knife’s edge of abstraction. My approach is not to paint the object itself but the air around it, making most of my paintings less representational.


Words and art create an exquisite dance here. The beauty of this book is its eclectic mix that communicates the message of conservation. We recognize some might want to see consistency in the writing or art – or both – and might find these shifts jarring. But our goal is to reach as many as possible by showing the beauty and inspiration of our waterways through a variety of creative methods.

Art transforms. It changes how we think about the places in our state where the rivers and streams run through it. The writing and art motivate people to demand action to help restore fishing grounds that will bring tourism back to our struggling rural communities long after presidents once traveled west by train to fish and hunt in Indiana.

Michigan and Wisconsin inland rivers and lakes, because they’ve been well maintained, are the first choice for outdoor recreation. Geographically, Indiana is much the same as these two famous destinations. But to reach the same level of popularity, there is much to do. If we restore our waterways, as was done to the Eel River detailed in Jerry Sweeten’s essay, Indiana’s waterways can once again teem with life.

Indiana’s waterways inspired the cultures of Indigenous peoples, the stories of European settlers, and served as the muse for songwriters, including Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter. Let this work inspire others to take action to preserve and restore these resources to their natural wonder.

Avon Waters


Very special thanks to Juli and John Metzger of The JMetzger Group (JMG), whose patience in editing and designing this book helped our gang of eight through the process of getting ideas, words, images, and of course the 100 paintings, pulled from the ether and onto these pages. Without their expertise, none of this would be possible. We all thank you.

While it is impossible to name the thousands of people who left messages for us artists and writers on social media or those who guided us to locations, gave us directions, encouraged us, and provided a sundry of other small gestures to make all this possible, we must acknowledge the essential yet incomplete cadre who repeatedly aided us all along the way ranging from grant giving to providing significant cash assistance. They are: Indiana Art Commission, Indiana Izaak Walton League of America, Inc. Endowment, Indiana Humanities, Imagine Burgers and Brews, Swope Museum, Fort Wayne Artist Guild, and Dianna Burt, Lindsey Bridge, John Decker, Brad Fields, Linda Galloway, Nancy Ballmann-Goldsmith, Christel Gutelius, Thomas G. Heatherly, Phyllis Hughes, John Kelty, Betty Knapp, Barb Knuckles, Anne and Donn Larrison, Kim Linker, Kevin Ludwig, Ron and Dottie Mack, Heidi Malott, Cathy McCormick, Sandra McGill, Lynelle Mellady, Mary Moore, Lesa Nelson, Victoria Pope, Sarah Young Powers, Steve and Sharon Reiff, Patrick Redmon, Susan and Keith Ring, Donna Shortt, Lorrie Stanfield, Doris Waters, Kim Willhide, and Judy Hoffman Woodson.

With every project this size, there are many actions of immeasurable value and assistance that often are priceless. Some of those acts of kindness and support came from Mark Ruschman and the staff at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites; Amy Schreiber and staff of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art; Linda Volz and the volunteers of the Indiana Hoosier Salon of New Harmony; Darin Lawson and Wickliff Auctioneers; Art Nature Consortium, Eco Systems Connections Institute, and from Jim Buiter, Brent Cleek, Keith Halper, Carol Strock Wasson, and Jeff Baumgartner.

To those we are unable to list, we extend our deepest and most sincere thanks, nonetheless. You know who you are.


Juli Metzger is a journalist, journalism educator and entrepreneur.

Her earliest childhood memory is with her father, fishing at the water’s edge. He was an outdoorsman, as long as it meant fishing.

After a 30-year career in the newspaper industry, Metzger joined the faculty of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where she is Associate Lecturer Honorata at the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication.

She and her husband, John, operate The JMetzger Group, a boutique content marketing company specializing in niche publications, public relations, and strategic communications.

Words have meant everything to me. They give voice to those who cannot speak up or speak out. But any good writer knows a picture is worth a thousand words. I am privileged to play a supporting role to those who did the real work in this project: the artists and the essayists.

“Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation” is a glimpse into how far we’ve come, but more importantly, what remains at stake and the work yet to be done to preserve Indiana’s waterways for those who will write about them in the next generation.


Historians may remark about the irony of how one catastrophic event gave the clarity to chronicle another.

A sudden, hidden, odorless agent – the COVID-19 virus – would attack millions of vulnerable immune systems in rapid-fire succession over just two years while a band of Hoosier artists – using the global lockdown – painted with purpose to illustrate Indiana’s slow erosion of its waterways, in plain sight for decades.

It is at this intersection of pandemic-induced free time that art and conservation meet. This book gives voice and visual representations to what’s at stake if we look just beyond the natural wonder in the paintings, and address Indiana’s suffering but salvageable waterways. The exquisite work on the following pages omit the litter and debris artists found, obscuring the realities of continued inattention.

Besides essays, artists share their personal experiences of wading through chest-high waters or flying drones to reach the agriculture pressing against riparian spaces to document Indiana’s rivers and streams. They appealed to private landowners for access to the public waterways.

What the Indiana artists found was nothing short of neglect. Indiana’s fragile waterways – today, poisoned more by agricultural runoff rather than raw sewage and industrial waste – still teeter on the edge of a calamitous cliff. Today, rivers are no longer aflame and the pollution is more subtle yet equally damaging.


We could pull away from disaster or fall headfirst, depending upon the path we choose. Our essayists write of restoration and hope. We all have a role to play and can take steps to slow and even amend sins of the past.

COVID-19 brought the world to its knees. By May 2022, just as this project entered its final stages, the World Health Organization reported that 6.25 million had died because of it. Yet the global disruption caused by the threatening virus brought about several positive effects on which this artistic project is based – the environment. More specifically, water. Due to restricted movement and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities, air quality improved in many cities with a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world.

Indeed, the climate received a much needed respite during the pandemic.

While most retreated indoors with minimal contact, these five Indiana artists, craving countryside, and their craft, were drawn to the waterways and inspired by the pandemic to use their found time wisely. They emerged from their homes and traveled with easels and brush and each would create 20 paintings over a 20-month period.

This beautiful book includes spectacular original images – representing 100 paintings of waterways throughout Indiana – that are accompanied by essays describing the environmental pressure faced by these natural wonders. Indiana Waterways essayists explain conservation efforts of groups like the Indiana Izaak Walton League of America, an organization created to preserve and maintain the nation’s natural fishing and hunting resources.

Before we can hope to secure the life of Indiana’s fragile ecosystem, it first will take an awakening. Just as there is a cost to fix what is broken. There is an even greater cost to do nothing.


Essayist Dr. Jerry Sweeten, a biology professor emeritus at Manchester University, so eloquently expresses it this way:

“It takes money to restore broken natural systems like the Eel River basin, but we struggle to understand the true costs and negative externalities from our human endeavors as it relates to clean water on a large scale. There are many reasons why it is plausible to have productive and profitable human endeavors across the watershed and a clean and healthy Eel River. Adequate funding for ecological restoration is our largest challenge. Period.”

Indiana environmental journalist Carson Gerber gives perspective of where the state has been and where it should be headed. He writes:

“Since the Izaak Walton League of America was founded 100 years ago, Indiana’s water quality has vastly improved. Fewer rivers are clogged with pollution and debris due to the EPA and IDEM actively enforcing clean-water laws and fining those who violate them. Today, most Hoosiers don’t give a thought to what’s in their drinking water. But water pollution hasn’t gone away. It’s simply morphed into something more subtle and less conspicuous than the burning rivers and oil-soaked beaches of the 1960s.”


An educational component accompanied this book with the artists making a series of presentations to community libraries, in classrooms and at museums. The paintings were displayed at the Indiana State Museum and Historical Sites, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and other art galleries.

“Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation” is a call to action. It reminds us that the ecological health of our rivers, streams and tributaries – big and small – remains in jeopardy.

If art is the gateway to the next generation of conservationists, this project gives a roadmap to the work – and the payoff – that could lie just ahead.


Carson Gerber is a journalist who has worked in Indiana and Ohio for more than a decade reporting on local topics and the environmental impact industries have on Indiana communities.

In 2019, he and a reporting team won the Associated Press’ top newswriting award in Indiana for an investigative series on Howard County’s opioid epidemic.

Gerber, a canoeing enthusiast, paddled the entire length of the Wabash River over a 10-year period.

Nearly 75 percent of Indiana waterways have been found to be unsafe for human contact. As Hoosiers, are we comfortable with the fact that we could face health consequences from simply taking a dip in our favorite river or stream?.

Photo: Kelly LaffertyGerber.

Indiana playing catch up in conservation efforts

The Grand Calumet River only takes a short, 13-mile jaunt west from Gary before it empties into Lake Michigan through the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. But that short stretch of stream carries some of the most polluted water in the United States.

Today, the river has been designated as a “Great Lakes Areas of Concern” under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due in part to its fish consumption restrictions, beach closings and fish and animal deformities.

The river’s pollution reached its pinnacle in the mid-20th century, with steel mills, oil refineries and other industrial factories flooding the waterway with millions of cubic feet of toxic sludge.1 The river’s vibrant fish population of carp, northern pike, bluegill and yellow perch virtually disappeared. Those that did survive were likely to have deformities, eroded fins, lesions and tumors.2

It was the same story for lakes and rivers around the nation. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire for the 13th time after decades of oil and debris buildup in the waterway. It wasn’t the largest or most devastating fire on the river, but it captured the attention of the nation after Time magazine did an exposé on the incident.3

Suddenly, the country’s eye turned toward the decades of unnoticed pollution dumping into rivers and streams, especially those in highly industrial areas like the Grand Calumet River in Gary. In response, Congress took one of its most bold and sweeping steps toward conservation by passing the National Environmental Policy Act. It was signed into law on Jan. 1, 1970, and helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency that same year.4

But one conservation group didn’t want the government to be the only ones keeping an eye on the health of the nation’s waterways. For the Izaak Walton League of America, protecting rivers and streams was a duty of all its members and to all those who called America home.

Congress passed its environmental policy in 1969. That same year, the Izaak Walton League started Save Our Streams – the only nationwide program training volunteers to protect waterways from pollution and collect water-quality data that would be some of the first citizen-provided information to the EPA that it considered scientifically valid.5


A Century of Conservation

The Izaak Walton League, one of the oldest conservation groups in the U.S., has spent the last 100 years fighting to protect the nation’s waterways and sounding the alarm on the environmental devastation happening across America. In fact, deteriorating water quality in lakes and rivers was the issue that brought 54 sportsmen to Chicago on Jan. 14, 1922, who founded the group to protect the top fishing streams and rivers that were under threat from industrial pollution.6

They named their new conservation group after Izaak Walton, the 17th century English author of “The Compleat Angler,” the literary classic that praised the beauty of streams of Walton’s homeland and documents the author’s adventures teaching a novice fisherman about the sport – and his philosophy about environmental stewardship.

From the beginning, the Izaak Walton League made preserving America’s rivers and streams its top priority. In 1927, zoologist and League member Henry Ward suggested to President Calvin Coolidge that the group could prepare a nationwide water quality survey.

Coolidge commissioned the League to send questionnaires to health officials in all 48 states. It was the first national survey of its kind, and the results showed that sewage was responsible for 75 percent of the nation’s water pollution because most sewer systems were not yet connected to any treatment facility. The study also determined the Midwest, Northeast and California had the most polluted waterways.7

In response to the findings, seven states rapidly passed laws to address water pollution. The League used that momentum to make a national push over the next decade to build sewage treatment plants in every community. Local chapters took up the cause, which led to new treatment facilities in towns and cities around the U.S.8

The League’s emphasis on first-person observation and hands-on advocacy led chapters in Maryland to start a program called Save Our Streams. They modeled it after that state’s adopt-ahighway program, but instead of roads, members adopted a waterway. Volunteers reported water pollution, removed trash and debris and educated the public about preventing pollution.9

In 1972, thanks in part to efforts from the League, Congress approved the Clean Water Act, which allowed the EPA to implement pollution control programs and enforce policies that made it illegal to discharge any pollutant from a point source unless a permit was obtained. 10


The Izaak Walton League celebrated the sweeping policy changes brought on by the legislation and hailed the Clean Water Act as one of their crowning conservation achievements. But the group knew it could not depend only on the EPA to keep the nation’s rivers safe. In 1973, the League adopted and developed national guidelines for Save Our Streams, and asked every chapter and member to adopt and clean up a local waterway.

In 1975, to get the word out about the new program, the League’s new Save Our Streams Director Dave Whitney jumped aboard a converted motorhome dubbed the Water Wagon and traveled to every state in the contiguous U.S. His message was simple. “[Water is] vital to our lives. You can’t make any more of this stuff,” Whitney said.11

In the mid-1980s, the group partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to develop a volunteer monitoring protocol to gauge a stream’s health based on the presence of insects and other aquatic life. In 1990, the EPA approved the League’s approach to ensuring scientifically valid data, making it one of the first such quality assurance plans to be approved by the agency.12

An aluminum drink can litters the bank of Fall Creek at Williamsport Falls in Warren County. Photo: Avon Waters.

Indiana Gets Rolling

Save Our Streams gradually picked up steam in chapters across the nation, but it took the Indiana division longer than that to fully embrace the power of the program.

After it launched, local chapters continued to work independently on their own water-quality programs. In the northcentral Indiana town of Argos, members started a fish hatchery program and donated their first fish to the state’s hatchery system.13 Others organized annual river cleanups. Chapters in northwest Indiana continued to work to restore wetlands around the Kankakee River, which was once home to the largest inland marsh in the U.S. before it was nearly all destroyed and turned into farm ground.14

Some chapters eventually did take up the Save Our Streams program, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that state leaders made a concerted push to adopt the program across all of Indiana. Organizers called a meeting and appointed a committee chairman at each of the state’s 28 chapters. Then they sent off volunteers to start teaching at schools and youth programs in their region.15

One project guide taught students about watersheds, pollution sources and stream ecology, and then helped them create their own science projects monitoring a river’s biology and water quality. Another Save Our Streams booklet taught students how to do “critter counts” to identify the larvae of beetles, mayflies, worms and other creatures to determine a stream’s health.16 At one point, Save Our Streams was taught in every summer school class in the Indianapolis Public Schools district.17

A discarded refrigerator lodged on a log in Mill Creek near Cataract Falls in west central Indiana’s Owen County.

Photo: Avon Waters.

Indiana’s League Division had consolidated the program, but that initial push gradually fizzled out in some chapters as they worked on their own projects or put more emphasis on the recreational activities, such as organizing skeet shooting and fishing tournaments.

Since 2019, the national League and the state division have sustained a prolonged push to reinvigorate the program. In 2021, the Indiana division acquired 12 professional-grade kits to test the water quality in lakes and rivers around the state. The kits cost several hundred dollars and include different kinds of nets, dip-strips for chemical testing, and reference materials.18

All that information can now be found at a national database created by the League called the Clean Water Hub, a first-of-its kind resource for water quality information from around the U.S.19 Members can submit current or historic data from testing kits, and all the information is publicly available using an interactive online map. In Indiana, more than 40 testing sites have been logged, most of which are along rivers and ditches in the Fort Wayne region.20

Data provided on the map through the Save Our Streams test kits plays a vital role in monitoring the state’s waterways. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management only does site-specific testing on a fraction of the state’s 62,550 miles of rivers and streams. Most water quality data used by the agency is derived from statistical calculations.21 Now, with more site-specific data provided by volunteers to supplement IDEM’s testing, officials can more accurately shape Indiana’s water quality programs and initiatives.

Adapting to a New Century

Since the Izaak Walton League of America was founded 100 years ago, Indiana’s water quality has vastly improved. Fewer rivers are clogged with pollution and debris due to the EPA and IDEM actively enforcing clean water laws and fining those who violate them. Today, most Hoosiers don’t give a thought to what’s in their drinking water.

But water pollution hasn’t gone away. It’s simply morphed into something more subtle and less conspicuous than the burning rivers and oil-soaked beaches of the 1960s.

Today’s threat is the runoff from tens of millions of acres of farms, suburban lawns and parking lots in cities across America. And a new threat means a new approach to the Save Our Streams program. “Success today – and in the future – will be defined by detecting and tackling this 21st century threat,” said Samantha Briggs, the League’s Clean Water Program director.22


In Indiana, one of the most pressing issues is curbing runoff from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and fields that eventually flows into the Mississippi River.23 That runoff is full of nutrients that suck oxygen out of water. Enough of it has now ended up in the Gulf of Mexico to create a 1.4 million acre environmental disaster called the dead zone that kills nearly all aquatic life there, and Indiana contributes about 11 percent of that fish-killing runoff.24

Where exactly does that runoff come from in Indiana? That’s what programs like Save Our Streams can help determine through volunteer testing and monitoring. “If most streams in America are not regularly monitored, there is no way to detect these drastic pollution events,” Briggs said. “In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know.”25

The Indiana Division also is getting back to the program’s educational roots teaching kids about what clean water actually means. Jim Sweeney, a member of the Spring Lake Chapter and a national executive board member, has taken a unique approach by participating in Canoemobile events each year to show students the magic of macroinvertebrates.26 “The kids just eat that stuff up when you show them all those bugs,” Sweeney said. “It’s a good learning tool.”27

The Izaak Walton League has spent the last century fighting and advocating for clean water, and the organization shows no signs of stopping. New initiatives like the Salt Watch Program are getting members and everyday citizens to advocate for less road salt, which can create unhealthy water conditions for aquatic animals and end up in drinking water.28 The League also has created a new Creek Critter App to help kids and families identify the bugs and other creatures that indicate a healthy stream.

It all stems from the vision laid out by the League’s founders 100 years ago to protect the nation’s water, woods and wildlife. That vision included advocating for legislative changes, connecting Americans to the outdoors and providing citizens with programs like Save Our Streams that turns data into action.

Indiana’s Save Our Streams Director Edward Wisinski said both the national League and the Indiana Division continue to implement that vision and advocate for changes to protect local waterways over the next century. After all, if conservation groups like the Izaak Walton League don’t continue to raise the alarm, who will?

“We’re trying to bring that to the public, not in a radical way, but in a common-sense way,” he said. “It’s a never-ending process. Just when we think we’ve crossed the bridge, so to say, we come up against another flooded stream.”29

n n n


2 HarborCanal2000.pdf


4 Ibid.






10 CWA,name%20with%20amendments%20in%201972.



13 Interview with Edward Wisinski, Indiana’s Save Our Streams chairman and a past state president. Jan. 6, 2022 14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Save Our Streams: Monitor’s Guide to Aquatic Macroinvertebrates. Loren Larkin Kellogg. Published 1992

17 Interview with Edward Wisinski, Indiana’s Save Our Streams chairman and a past state president. Jan. 6, 2022

18 Interview with Jim Sweeney, Izaak Walton League Executive Board Member. Jan. 7, 2022 19 20


22 ing-(and-redefining)-success-with-save-our-streams

23 Interview with Jim Sweeney, Izaak Walton League Executive Board Member. Jan. 7, 2022 24 25 ing-(and-redefining)-success-with-save-our-streams

26 ing-(and-redefining)-success-with-save-our-streams

27 Interview with Jim Sweeney, Izaak Walton League Executive Board Member. Jan. 7, 2022 28

29 Interview with Edward Wisinski, Indiana’s Save Our Streams chairman and a past state president. Jan. 6, 2022


Dr. Jerry Sweeten taught biology at Manchester University (formerly Manchester College), where he is Professor Emeritus of Biology and Environmental Studies. He owns and operates the Ecosystems Connections Institute in Denver, Indiana.

His work centers on the ecological systems and restoration of waterway systems with a primary focus on the Eel River Basin restoration.

In restoring the Eel River, we restore ourselves, and we offer reconciliation to all creatures large or small who have had no voice. Our collective and humble success will be judged, not on the words that tell this story, but rather what the river tells us. I hope we listen well.


Restoration of the Eel River of Northern Indiana: A Journey of Reconciliation with Nature

If ever there was a molecular underdog, it would have to be water. Water is truly a molecular miracle that most assume will be around in sufficient quantities and quality. But this assumption can be a painful lesson when there are miscalculated expectations or exploitations.

Made of one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, water is a simple molecule by the standards of chemistry, but water drives an extraordinary number of complex natural systems and is literally the stuff of life and beyond. It is, by far, the most abundant liquid on Earth and makes up most of living matter. In fact, human bodies are more than half water.

Water dissolves all kinds of other molecules, becomes less dense when it freezes, which allows ice to float rather than sink, moderates the Earth’s temperature, and is sticky, which allows only the most anatomically prepared to walk on water. Watch water striders skim across the surface of a lake or stream. It is a mystifying achievement.

Water is simply in a league of its own. This may be shocking news, but there is no new water being made. Water is constantly being recycled from liquid to gas through what scientists call the hydrologic cycle or simply the water cycle. Conceptually the water cycle is quite simple, but the details are complex.

Stock photo.

A water strider is anatomically enabled to walk on water.

When one drinks a glass of water, there is no way of knowing where these water molecules have been or where they are headed. Perhaps the water molecules in this glass were once in the ocean or perhaps a lake, or perhaps part of a plant or animal.

Let your mind wander and it may be a bit scary. Imagine being a water molecule on this cyclical journey. For some, this molecular journey will move quickly based on nature’s time scale, but it is possible to be stuck for a very long time in a glacier, underground, or in the depths of the ocean. Regardless, this process has been occurring well before humans showed up on the Earthly scene and will continue with or without humans.

Unless otherwise noted, all images accompanying this essay are courtesy of Ecosystems Connections Institute.


The Eel River and the Human Condition: A Sense of Place

It is well known most of the water on Earth is salty and found in the oceans (97 percent), but only a tiny fraction is found in freshwater streams, less than 0.003 percent. This tiny fraction of water in streams embarks on a journey through unique physical, biological, and geological ancient natural systems that harbor great diversity of life, and which have no voice in the matter.

Awareness and understanding of this complex and intricate water journey bring together the living and nonliving world and is a pointed example of opportunities for restoration and reconciliation with nature. Nowhere are these interdependent salient mysteries of nature more evident than along the ecological restoration journey of the Eel River in northern Indiana.

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

Ecclesiastes 1:7

There is a rich and vigorous natural and cultural history for the Eel River basin of northern Indiana, but this history is heavily weighted toward the cultural side and very little to none toward the natural history side. There are several excellent Cultural Historic Museums across the basin including North Manchester, Columbia City, Stockdale Mill, and Logansport.

These museums thoroughly capture the good, bad, and ugly of recorded culture history. They record the ebb and flow of Native American scuffles that were often delineated by the Eel River. The Potawatomi were predominantly relegated to the north side of the river and the Miami Indians to the south. Evidence suggests the Potawatomi and Miami Indians often were engaged in territorial scrimmages but there was co-existence for hundreds of years.

Native American cultures came quickly to an end after Europeans arrived on the scene. There was a disregard and dismantling of Native American culture that was unspeakably sad and falls clearly in the bad and ugly categories of our cultural history, and worth exploring with a healthy dose of humility.


The Eel River basin, like other streams and lakes in northern Indiana, had their form, shape, and personality created by the last of four great continental glaciers that moved across this part of the world.

The Wisconsin Glacial Stage began between 100,000 and 75,000 years ago and ended about 11,000 years ago. This was a huge glacier and showed no respect for its three glacial predecessors or the


political boundaries that would be drawn in the future by humans. This glacier was driven by a climate considerably colder than our climate today and slowly chugged along, grinding and sorting rocks to all sizes and shapes, creating what we call glacial till – soil.

Evidence of this historic event can be seen where glacial erratics – glacially deposited rock differing from the type of rock native to the area – have been randomly scattered across the landscape, including in the Eel River.

Many Eel River canoeists have learned all about glacial erratics hidden just below the water surface through experiential learning. The canoe or kayak driving test comes first, followed by the lesson that might include being perched on top of a boulder, ricocheting off to one side or the other, or gathering gear from the water.

Below the till and glacial erratics is a surprising discovery – limestone bedrock – which formed when Indiana was covered by a shallow sea. Some of this ancient limestone is evident in the lower part of the Eel River basin at Logansport where there is a fossilized coral reef. It is a great place to visit and explore marine fossils. The limestone outcroppings are plentiful from near present-day Adamsboro six miles upstream of the Eel River confluence with the Wabash River. The till completely buried the limestone in the upper parts of the basin to depths of well over 100 feet.

Geologists say the Wisconsin Glacier ice was a mile thick where the Eel River basin is now located. Multiple lobes of this great sheet of ice ebbed and flowed roughly northeast to southwest over a very long time, all the while creating landforms seen today that direct the flow of water in the Eel.

Occasionally and randomly huge chunks of ice would break loose from the glacier and create a large depression in the ground that would ultimately fill with water. They are called natural lakes today. These lakes and their surrounding wetlands are scattered across the northern third of Indiana and are important recreational hubs. There are only five natural lakes remaining in the upper part of the Eel basin, and most of the original wetlands have long since been drained by humans.

The Eel River basin was created by two large lobes of ice. The Saginaw lobe dipped to the southwest out of Lake Huron and slid alongside the Erie lobe of ice, which also headed southwest and carved out Lake Erie.

Where these massive ice sheets slid alongside each other, huge undulating mounds of Earth were deposited that extend from just west of Fort Wayne, in a southwest direction to Logansport. Today, these rolling hills are called the Packerton Moraine. A moraine is simply a place where glaciers slowed in their advance or retreated and deposited large mounds of glacial till or piles of soil.


These hills are quite evident by traveling north on Indiana State Road 13 from North Manchester, but the hills associated with the Packerton Moraine can be viewed north of the Eel River at about any location. As water from the melting massive sheets of ice carved a pathway, it bumped into the Packerton Moraine that was positioned northeast to southwest and forced what is now the Eel River to follow in this trajectory.

As all this was happening in glacier time, there was a huge geologic tussle over where water at the top of the basin would flow. As the ice melted, the Earth slowly sprang upward much like a wet sponge responds after wringing out the water.

In this case, there were two options for the water: flow north toward Lake Erie and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean, or flow southwest to the Wabash River and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. This is a true continental divide, albeit not very dramatic and without large mountains to direct our intuition about where the waters should flow.

It was a geologic debate where the Eel River lost part of its real estate at the upper end of the basin to what is now Cedar Creek that flows to the St. Joseph River in Fort Wayne then to the Maumee River that flows into Lake Erie.

The evidence of this battle remains as an expansive flat wetland at the top of the basin just west of Huntertown. Even today, water in this wetland is somewhat challenged as to which way it should flow. Of course, humans have stepped into this debate and imposed will on the water that seemed confused, but not really. Regardless, we do know that gravity is still in charge and the water will always follow this advice.

As the ice sheets continued to recede at different rates, landforms were created. In the case of the Eel River, it had few options except to flow southwest along the Packerton Moraine on the north side of the basin. However, the south side of the basin is very different. Here, the glacier receded at a steady pace and left flat and poorly drained till.

A trip south of the Eel River toward Indianapolis will illustrate this flat landscape we now call the Tipton Till Plain. Often the joke is that the Tipton Till Plain is so flat that one can watch a dog run away for days. Not that any runaway dog would care, the interpretation of this geologic history is recorded in landforms discerned today, but what happened next is largely a mystery.

As the climate became warmer and drier, the Eel River basin was colonized by opportunistic plants and animals, including fishes and mussels. There is no record of these successional changes, only speculation with the understanding that nature does not leave any place void of life for long and


all plants and animals have but one thing in mind: They want to take over the world.

Despite all the brilliant strategies and adaptations, including chemical warfare, nature has evolved plenty of checks and balances on this tribal instinct across the great diversity of life. It is fun and curious to speculate what it may have looked like as the first plants and animals arrived on the scene and colonized the Eel River basin without interference.


When Europeans began to colonize the basin in the mid to late 1700s, they would have encountered an expansive forest that stretched across the eastern half of the United States with some of the largest trees on the planet. The forest is now called the Eastern Deciduous Forest. This is simply scientific verbiage for trees that lose leaves in the fall.

This forest was so large and so expansive that it was said a squirrel could travel through the trees from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean and never touch the ground. It would be unimaginably dangerous if a squirrel would attempt such a trip today. It must have seemed like an endless sea of trees.

Trees along the Eel River and across the watershed would have been more than 200 feet tall and eight feet in diameter. Of the 23 million acres (one acre is about the size of one football field) that make up Indiana, about 20 million acres would have been deciduous forests when Europeans arrived.

Today, there are about five million acres of forests in Indiana with about 25 percent of these forests in the northern part of the state. The northern forests have been drastically limited to scattered wood lots separated by cultivated agricultural fields and urban areas.


Old-growth forests in Indiana

In the early 1600s, there were about 20 million acres of decidous forests, as respresented by the dark green on these maps.


By the mid1920s, almost all of the forests have been had been harvested. Today, there are about five million acres of old-growth forests remaining in the state.


By the early 1900s, most of the forests were cleared across the entire state, including the forests across the Eel River basin. While these expansive landscape level changes allowed humans to become the dominant species, there also were ecological losers and ecological winners.

Graphic: John Metzger, The JMetzger Group

By the middle 1800s species like black bear, fishers, wolverines, lynx, elk, and American bison were extirpated from Indiana. By the early 1900s, gray wolves, porcupine, river otter, beaver, and whitetail deer were gone.

Passenger pigeons effectively were gone by 1900. Early accounts speak of flocks of passenger pigeons so large they would block the sun for an entire day or more. Passenger pigeons are now extinct, but at one time they were thought to be the most abundant animal with a backbone on Earth. The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her human name was Martha. It must have died of a broken heart.

One can only now imagine a parakeet native to Indiana. It’s true. Carolina parakeets, also now extinct, could be found within the boundaries of what is now Indiana. It is unlikely anyone knows when the last Carolina parakeet died, but the Earth surely must have felt the pain.

Both passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets are two species of birds that were collateral damage of a changing world, and they were unable to adapt. We even depict this era of European settlement of Indiana and these catastrophic environmental changes on the State Seal that shows a fellow chopping down a tree with an ax while an American bison exits the state, and the sun is setting in the background.

Only professional logic can make an educated guess of how the Eel River basin changed after clearing the great forests and dictating when and where water must be allowed or not allowed. Only from the distance of time and relying on less than scientific evidence, one can imagine what it was like across the basin.

In the 1970 book, “Travel Accounts of Indiana 1679-1961,” author S.S. McCord wrote about Hugh McCulloch, a member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, who began his banking career as the President of the Bank of Indiana while the state was still a vast wilderness:

In 1833, McCulloch stood at the Wabash River near the confluence with the Eel. He wrote: “I followed an Indian trail that led along the banks of the Wabash, which had not been deprived of any of their natural beauty by either freshets or the ax of the settler. The river was bankfull [referring to water at the top of the riverbank just before flooding]. Its water was clear, and as it sparkled in the sunlight or reflected the branches of the trees which hung over it, I thought it was more beautiful than even the Ohio…”


It is highly unlikely the water of the Eel River or Wabash River will ever be bankfull with crystal clear water.

One of the more mysterious and lesser-known animals in streams and lakes are freshwater mussels. The Eel was no exception and harbored a vibrant population of freshwater mussels. There are undocumented accounts of so many mussels in the Eel that the shells were cooked to make lime and the meat consumed as food. Today, freshwater mussels are among the most imperiled animals on Earth. Many species in the Eel are hanging on by a thread.

Fish, too, were exceedingly abundant in the Eel with 100 species. As “progress” marched along from the 19th century through the early 20th century, the Eel River, along with many other streams across Indiana, were viewed as a source of waterpower or as a place to dump refuse and unregulated waste. Tributaries that fed the river were ditched and wetlands drained. The water cycle has been forever altered.

The first dam built in the Eel River was constructed at Logansport and commissioned by General John Tipton in 1832. Eventually, there would be 14 low-head dams in the Eel River with most built between about 1850 to the early 1900s. These dams stretched from Collamer (River Mile 74) to Logansport (River Mile 1) and ranged in height from five- to 10-feet tall. Dams were constructed to provide waterpower to grind grain, run sawmills, support breweries, provide drinking water, and even early versions of electrical generation.

As the economy of running these mills and industrial endeavors changed, all were eventually abandoned. Only one working mill in the basin remains at Stockdale (River Mile 35). The mill is fully restored and functional and worth the time for a tour. The river is a mighty force and by the beginning of the 21st century only seven of the original 14 dams remained.

Most of the earliest dams were built as wood-crib dams and later capped with concrete or replaced with concrete dams. The wood-crib dams without concrete caps were consumed quickly by the river, but the concrete dams have persisted even when the mills had been reclaimed by nature.

With a thumbnail sketch of this time when Europeans colonized the basin, it is clear the Eel River experienced serious ecological and cultural trauma. What is not known is the degree of this trauma apart from inference from anecdotal evidence. There is no scientific data, but only glimpses and limited insights.


“Some of the communities upstream discharged sewage without treatment. In 1965, this writer piloted a youth canoe camp for the Indiana North Evangelical United Brethren Church. Foul conditions were much more evident at that time. It seemed every farmer had a hillside overlooking the river where the family trash was dumped. Several dead livestock carcasses lay at the water’s edge. There was a massive fish kill below North Manchester.”

– Jay Taylor, North Manchester, Indiana, as published by the North Manchester Center for History

After reading this account for the first, second, and third times, it is humbling to ponder how even some of the most resilient plants and animals survived, let alone plants and animals that must have been resilience compromised. It is an unspeakably sad part of Indiana history. Fortunately, there has been some incidental progress relative to the quality and integrity of the Eel River, as well as other streams. It is hard to imagine a recurrence today of what Jay Taylor experienced in 1965.

With the passage of clean water legislation, industry no longer indiscriminately dumps waste into the river and municipalities are required to treat municipal waste before returning the water to the river. These wastewater treatment plants have eliminated, mostly, direct discharge of human waste into the river with two caveats.

The first is combined sewer overflows and the second is high levels of phosphorus in the water being returned to the river. In most towns and cities, the storm drains are combined with the sewer drains from homes and ultimately flow to the wastewater treatment plant. If rainfall exceeds the capacity of a wastewater treatment plant, overflow valves open and raw sewage and excess rainwater flow directly into the river. There are large warning signs at every combined sewer discharge point.

This is an old approach to water quality called, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” It is bewildering to think it has taken decades for the wheels of bureaucracy to have turned enough that towns are required to either eliminate or significantly reduce the frequency of when raw sewage can or will be discharged into a stream. There will be a day when raw sewage will never be discharged into streams, hopefully soon.

The second caveat to this story is the removal of an unassuming molecule called phosphorus. It may be a little-known fact outside the circle of limnologists – scientists who study freshwater lakes and streams – but human waste (poop) is loaded with phosphorus.

While every living organism needs phosphorus for multiple biological processes, there can always be too much of a good thing. In this case, excess phosphorus is a pass through. Phosphorus and water quality go hand in hand. Too much phosphorus in a lake, stream, or the ocean causes harmful algal


blooms, reduces oxygen in the water, turns the water a “pea soup” green color, and in some cases the algae can be of the toxic variety.

It only takes 30 parts per billion of phosphorus to cause this cascade of ecological change. This is equivalent to 30 cubes of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool or 30 seconds in 32 years of phosphorus in a lake to cause problems.

There is no shortage of good examples of phosphorus pollution, including nearly every lake in northern Indiana, the western basin of Lake Erie, and even the confluence of the Mississippi River with the Gulf of Mexico that results in a dead area called a hypoxic zone. Other high-profile examples include toxic red tides along the west and east coast of Florida.

Removal of phosphorus from wastewater is slowly improving. While elimination of combined sewer overflows and removal of phosphorus from wastewater cost money, these are worthy investments in a common good for a clean stream or lake that will bring extraordinary ecological value and value to the human community.

The synergistic effects of pollutants sent indiscriminately into and down the Eel River over the past decades may never be understood, but at least there is progress on the municipal and industrial side of the ledger. It is good to know people care and progress is headed in a good trajectory.

The Eel River and small streams across the watershed have been dammed, ditched, drained, and served as a repository for unimaginable waste. More than 80 percent of the forests have been cleared from the Eel River basin and cultivated agriculture is the predominant land use. There have been and continue to be unintended consequences of human endeavors which contribute to the ecological trauma of the Eel River.

For a restoration limnologist, it is well known anytime a natural system has been altered to this degree there will be an ecological response. It may not be the response anyone expected or anticipated, but nonetheless the response is as predictable as gravity that makes water run downhill or any other natural physical law in the universe. There is a choice.

Our collective obligation as scientists is to understand and explain the salient ecological gears and other cogs that make a natural system like the Eel River function. Society must offer and embrace pragmatic solutions for renewal and reconciliation for a clean and healthy stream for humans and for all of those who have no voice in the matter. Restoration of the Eel River is a remarkable journey full of unanticipated twists and turns, but the Eel River is without question better today than it has been in decades. This journey is not complete and perhaps never will be, but it is one worthy for future generations to contemplate and engage.


“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. Ecologists must either harden their shells and make believe the consequences of science are none of their business, or they must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

– Aldo Leopold, in his 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac”

The Eel River Today: A Journey of Science, Hope, and Reconciliation

As a city kid growing up in the north end of Kokomo, Indiana, frequent vacations to a small fishing cabin on Bruce Lake was nothing short of living in the wilderness albeit only 50 miles from home and a few weeks each year. Bruce Lake is a shallow 245-acre glacial lake in Pulaski and Fulton counties in Indiana.

Looking in the rearview mirror of life provides context to experiences at Bruce Lake as fertile soil for the development of a life journey of this writer as a limnologist. Rachel Carson, American biologist and author of the influential 1962 conservation book “Silent Spring,” wrote:

“A child’s world is fresh and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. If a child is to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, they need the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”


Adults, especially mothers, have a sixth sense and vision for life journeys, selflessly making personal sacrifices to spend time nurturing a “sense of wonder.” While never outwardly expressed, my mother knew that my childhood vacations were the origins of a passion for lakes, streams, and fishing.


Bruce Lake was a wilderness with endless adventures and places to explore that were very different from our neighborhood. These adventures are forever deeply embedded, and they became the rock of teaching and scientific philosophies. They became the beginnings of restoring the Eel River.

In September 1971, my parents dropped most of my earthly possessions, including my favorite fishing gear, at the back door of Schwalm Hall at Manchester College. While mathematics suggests this may have been 50 years back, the memory of that day is so vivid that it seems only a few years ago. At the time, my acceptance into Manchester College had to be an error by someone who was tasked to evaluate applicants with strong indicators of success at college. There must have been a mistake.


The appeal of Manchester College campus was not academics, but rather the fact it was bordered by the Eel River known for great smallmouth bass fishing. Birthright jobs in Kokomo were factory positions in the automobile industry and young people in the neighborhood rarely ventured off to college. The probability of success of a first-generation college student who was addicted to fishing had to be especially low within the context of a high school teacher’s comment that went something like, “Don’t waste your time going to college. You are not college material.”

Despite this advice, standing at the backdoor of Schwalm Hall was the origin of a professional journey founded on faith and unknown outcomes. College students generally are clueless relative to four years of academia. Hometown peers often inquired about the rationale to attend Manchester College while sacrificing good money at the factory. There were no good answers to these questions, only a journey that was set in motion catching bluegills and chasing frogs at Bruce Lake.

Academia and the college process was like driving in a dense fog. However, the next four years were transformative and served as the foundation for a professional career only remotely imaginable. Four years passed quickly, and in 1975 there was a diploma-in-hand with a biology and environmental studies degree, albeit with an academic record that was mildly average.

This was a small but significant twist in the journey to restoration of the Eel River past skipping classes to go fishing. Rather, the Manchester College journey led to a master’s degree from Ball State University and a Ph.D. in limnology from Purdue University. Who would have “thunk it?”

Perhaps the greatest irony of this journey was a day in 2004 when a teaching position in biology and director of environmental studies at Manchester College was offered and accepted by this same kid from the north end of Kokomo, Indiana.


It was full circle and a giant leap for the Eel River restoration just shy of 30 years of May 1975. This was an awesome opportunity to give back to this special little college, commemorate the dedicated professors who had a vision of expectations and unknown capabilities.

This journey has certainly been convoluted, but at the base were shoulders of those who had the gift, capacity, and vision to see potential in a young fellow chasing frogs and fish at Bruce Lake, and as a first-generation college kid from a factory town set at the backdoor of Schwalm Hall in 1975. The stage was set without any strategic plan, but a life-long journey that led to this small college on the banks of the Eel River.

The motivation was to help young people gain scientific knowledge through research and other forms of experiential learning and where they too may find a life-long affection for understanding the natural systems of the Earth as a scientist and with uncompromising respect and gratitude. The Eel River was a natural and perfect laboratory to nurture their sense of wonder and use the nature of science to teach the science of nature.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

This professional limnology training focused on restoration of lakes and streams was set in motion by Dr. Anne Spacie, Purdue University professor and a mentor to me. Dr. Spacie was a brilliant scientist who unceasingly challenged prevailing ecological dogma and instilled the practical question. “What are the management implications of this research?”

To many readers, limnology may be a foreign scientific word that needs to be defined. While a professor at Manchester College, there was a course called limnology. It was a popular class and one that was fun to teach because it had a hefty outdoor element. As a professor, it was part of the job to help students with their academic schedule.

One day a student stopped by my office and asked to join the limnology class. After filling out the correct form for the student to join limnology class, the student asked if limnology was the study of “limbs.” It took a miracle to fight back a giant smile that could have undermined the spirit and zeal of this young biologist to explain that limnology was the study of freshwater streams and lakes.

The student responded with a slow extended, “Hmmm …” followed by the comment that they had no idea there was anyone who studied such things. Education comes in many forms, and we share this common bond of enlightenment from our life journey.


The circle of professional limnologists is quite small and there is a wide range of interests across the profession. Some limnologists focus on tiny details of water systems and others focus on how to fix broken lakes and streams. There are unlimited questions to answer that fit easily into each category, but both depend on time and money. There is simply a shortage of both and especially money.

This is where the Eel River restoration starts to gain some real traction. During a tenure at Manchester College, doors of opportunity opened through partnerships and collaborations that provided money for restoration and for paid student internships and student research opportunities focused on the Eel River.

Without any strategic plan, collaborative work in the Eel became a journey that launched the careers of many students and became the origin of small steps and sometimes large leaps toward restoration of the Eel River ecosystem itself. The work showed respect toward the native cultures that once inhabited the basin, and for the cultural lift that can only come from a healthy stream. Ecological restoration is a team sport.


The Eel River is a stream about 100 miles long with a watershed area of 529,968 acres (827 square miles). The Eel begins in Allen County just west of Huntertown, Indiana and joins the Wabash River in Cass County at Logansport. It is a linear stream with only a mild downward slope.

As a frame of reference, the Eel River flows into the Wabash River that flows into the Ohio River that flows into the Mississippi River that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Quite a journey for a water molecule, but it is only part of the journey. There are plenty of glacial erratic boulders and glacial till soils across the basin and for years the Eel River was considered one of the best smallmouth bass streams in Indiana.

In fact, one of the very early televised fishing shows focused on fishing for Eel River smallmouth bass. The show was called the “Flying Fisherman” and featured Gadabout Gaddis. The fishery waned, but the river has remained a highly popular canoe and kayak stream. The current and predominant land use across the watershed is cultivated agriculture at about 75 percent, with plenty of hogs, dairy cows, and chickens scattered across the basin. Nonpoint source pollution is most prevalent and significantly compromises water quality.

While there are all sorts of compounds, some known and others unknown, sent helter-skelter on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico, the most prevalent are nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Sediment – mud in the water – is the largest pollutant by volume in the Eel River as it is in other agricultural streams. The smallest amount of rain added to the stream makes the water look like chocolate milk. There is so much sediment in the river it could easily be called an “aquatic dust bowl.”


It has become painfully clear that most people are accustomed to seeing muddy water in the Eel River and believe the river has always been muddy. It wasn’t always this way, based on the 1833 documented observation of Hugh McCulloch, that day he stood before the Eel near flood stage, but he could still see the rocky bottom.

If all the sediment flowing down the Eel could be made to go airborne, it would undoubtedly change the narrative. Would people then recognize the magnitude of this water quality challenge? Reducing sediment in the Eel is unquestionably the greatest restoration challenge. Since agriculture is the predominant land use across the basin, a conservation target is squarely on its chest. But one fundamental concept central to restoration is that every human endeavor across a watershed bears responsibility for the quality of the stream.

While there are only small towns in the Eel basin including Columbia City, South Whitley,


North Manchester, Roann, Denver, and Logansport, they too contribute. The headwaters and virtually every tributary are farm drainage ditches except for six natural lakes, including Everett Lake, Blue Lake, Round Lake, Cedar Lake, Shriner Lake, and Lukens Lake.

Limnologists would consider the Eel River a highly modified stream system. In 2005, seven of the original 14 low-head dams were still standing and scattered throughout the basin, virtually every tributary was ditched to improve drainage of farm fields, forests cleared, hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens, and cattle across the basin, combined sewer overflows, and ecological trauma was still evident from days when indiscriminate dumping of waste was the standard operating procedure.

There is and was no debate about the designation that the Eel River was highly modified. Despite all this, there are 61 species of fishes and 26 species of freshwater mussels documented living in the Eel River.

Over the recent past, there have been successful and purposeful reintroductions including white-tailed deer, Eastern wild turkey, river otter, American bald eagle, and clubshell mussels. The successful return of these animals speaks as a testament to restoration ecology, albeit terribly underfunded.


From the doorstep of Manchester College in the fall of 1971 as an incoming student, to the doorstep of Manchester College in 2004 as professor of biology and director of environmental studies, was a convoluted pathway to a new gut-wrenching and questionable venture of teaching and research at a beloved institution and on the banks of a broken stream ecosystem.

Imagine teaching students in the very classrooms where some 30 years ago this professional side of this journey began. The classrooms had not changed one bit, and the laboratories all had the same familiar formalin smell that had permanently impregnated every crack and crevice of the building. Frankly, it felt very strange and even surreal.

The stoic professors of the past were no longer teaching. There was one obvious trait that had not changed. Environmental Studies students were reminiscent and predominantly experiential learners and needed to clearly see the relevancy of lecture material to the real world. Relevancy is relative depending on a student and professor perspective.

The operational philosophical platform was understood, and Eel River research emerged as the focal point for adding relevancy to the curriculum. During the 2005 academic year, the science department moved from the old science building to a brand-new building that had been under construction for several years. While the new science building was significantly different, the needs of students remained the same.


To fill this void of experiential learning, a small grant allowed research to begin on the Eel River. Two students worked as summer interns during 2006 to examine nonpoint source pollution relative to smallmouth bass population structure near North Manchester. That research was wildly successful and one of the students was awarded the best research paper at the Indiana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society in 2006. This student was competing against professional scientists and graduate students so maintaining humility was a bit challenged. But a great deal about the spawning habits and spawning success and growth of smallmouth bass relative to the amount of sediment flowing down the river was learned.

The project was funded for a couple more years until a much larger grant was secured from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and through Federal Clean Water Act Section 319. This grant was for four years and for $1 million. This money, along with a private donation provided a window of opportunity to craft a scientific vision for water quality assessment research that would lead to Eel River restoration initiatives.

The grant provided funding for four student interns in the summer months and the college provided free student housing during the internship. And it enabled continuity in funding over four-years and a two-year extension for a total of six years. This was dynamite in the world of stream restoration. While in nature’s timeframe, six years is less than a blink of an eye, through the eyes of a bureaucracy this was in the realm of geologic time.

A little-known fact, or perhaps a neglected fact, is the cost of scientific endeavors – this general cultural deficit is “conservation sticker shock.” Simply stated, it takes money to fix a broken ecosystem like the Eel River. But money is in short supply for such endeavors.

Through our grants student research teams were able to describe and understand the magnitude of nonpoint source pollution in the Eel River and form new and productive relationships with the agricultural community. The learning was holistic, relevant, and excellent for students to wrestle with the intersection of scientific research and differing cultural worldviews.

The scientific data was frightening, and the Eel River was later listed as one of the top 41 watersheds in the Mississippi River basin as a primary contributor of nutrients and sediment to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. YIKES!

It became apparent that a major restoration challenge for the river were seven low-head dams scattered throughout the basin. From upstream to downstream these dams included Collamer, Liberty Mills, North Manchester, Stockdale, Mexico, and two dams at Logansport. To date, only the


river had removed dams from the Eel, but no human had embarked on such an initiative.

Limnologists are keenly aware that low-head dams are dangerous and compromise the ecological integrity of streams. The scientific literature is clear on this topic. Dams fragment stream habitats and fish are unable to move freely upstream and downstream throughout the basin. This may come as a surprise to those outside of the small family of scientists who study these kinds of things, but more than 85 percent of all fish found in Midwest streams need to migrate upstream and downstream as part of their ecological life.

They move to spawning sites, winter homes, areas of transition, and dams also block genetic flow. This process is even more complex than the familiar salmon that migrate from the sea to spawning freshwater streams. Salmon are in a group of fishes called anadromous. Most of the familiar fish species in streams and lakes spend their entire life moving upstream and downstream. These fishes are called potamodromous.

Interestingly, one of the most spectacular migration journeys made by any fish species is the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), the namesake of the Eel River. The Miami Indians called the Eel River Ke-na-po-co-mo-co – or snake fish – because this long tubular fish might superficially look more like a snake than a fish. But don’t be fooled, this is a real fish.

This species breaks all the barriers when it comes to the secret lives of eels. American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea off the east coast of the United States. After spawning, the adults die while the larval eels drift with ocean currents toward North America. For some deep-seated evolutionary reason that defies human logic, young eels migrate into tidal streams and freshwater streams as far away as even the Eel River in Indiana and beyond.

Think of it this way: An American eel on a migration trip to the Eel River must journey from the Sargasso Sea, around the southern tip of Florida, through the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River, up the Ohio River, up the Wabash River, and enter the Eel River at Logansport.

This estimated 3,500-mile trip would challenge the stamina of any Olympic swimmer. Each individual Eel received the ancestral genetic map to find its way thousands of miles to historic streams of its ancestors.

Now imagine making that remarkable journey only to hit a concrete wall at Logansport.

Once mature, the eels make the journey in reverse to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn, die, and pass along the genetic information to complete this remarkable circle of life. Scientists call a fish that spawns in the sea and matures in freshwater catadromous.


This wonder of nature is unmistakably clear. As one can imagine, dams in streams have had a monumental effect on these magnificent migrations as well as movement of the potamodromous fishes in streams. This knowledge was in large part the motivation to restore fish passage in the Eel River. The last official American eel collected from the Eel River was in 1985 by fisheries biologist Ed Braun of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Perhaps there will be a day when American Eels will return. Hopefully they remember the way home.

“Education has no higher purpose than preparing people to lead personally fulfilling and responsible lives. The common methods of scientific instruction impede scientific literacy. They emphasize learning of answers more than exploration of questions, memory at the expense of critical thought, bits, and pieces of information instead of understanding in context, recitation over argument, reading in lieu of doing. Science curricula are overstuffed and undernourished.”

– F. James Rutherford, founder of the Project 2061, a long-term effort to reform U.S. science education, through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


If there was one word to describe the strategic plan for restoration of the Eel River ecosystem it would be “serendipity.” In 2009, two Manchester College environmental studies students presented technical research papers about the Eel River at the Indiana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (IAFS). While sitting in the audience and being less than engaged and frankly a little bored with the litany of speakers, other than the Manchester College students, a speaker from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) gave a presentation on removal of low-head dams.

His talk of removal of low-head dams across the Ohio River basin was quite interesting, but the part of his presentation that changed the Eel River forever was when he explained there were grants available to remove dams, and he was bewildered why no one in Indiana was applying for this money. His question to the audience was, “Why not?”

Offering money to scientists in public was way beyond professional logic. This author hung onto the coattails of this speaker as he attempted to leave the room after his presentation. In 2010, Manchester College’s science team received our first grant from the USFWS through the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP) to remove the dam at North Manchester (River Mile 52) and at Liberty Mills (River Mile 65).


Meeting Nate Caswell from USFWS at the IAFS conference that day in 2009 changed the ecological restoration trajectory of the Eel River forever. He moved to a different part of the USFWS system soon after the Manchester College team was awarded the first dam removal grant, and he was replaced by Donovan Henry.

Both Caswell and Henry had the vision and motivation for ecological restoration and understood how to help bring financial resources through a complicated and large bureaucratic federal agency, and both have unundoubtedly scored extra conservation stars in their crown as a willing partner to nurture this extraordinary journey.

It took nearly two years to get in place all the required state and federal permits to remove the North Manchester and Liberty Mills dams. Questions from agencies that had some uncertainty about removal of low-head dams had to be addressed. But as a science geek, this project was an opportunity to describe how the river responds to removal of the dams. This was a life-sized experimental design and a novel opportunity for budding young scientists.

The question was quite simple. How does the river ecosystem change once a dam is removed? In restoration limnology, this concept is referred to weighing the ecological lift versus the ecological risk. In other words, would removing these dams do more harm to the river than good?

With an experimental design set in motion to answer a series of questions, we relied heavily on our agency partners who had the necessary field equipment like an electrofishing boat and high-tech ways to map the sediment behind the dams.

The university’s research team’s partnership expanded to include the United States Geological Survey and the IDNR’s Braun.

The plan was to sample fish and mussels above and below the dams, systematically before and after the dams were removed, and to map the bottom of the river upstream and downstream of the dam to understand the fate of all sediment stored behind the dams.

Collecting this resolution of data was an extraordinary opportunity to advance restoration limnology, but equally important was the unprecedented opportunity for students to work alongside professional scientists and to see science in action. Professional networking in the life of a fledgling biologist is priceless.

In October 2012, both the North Manchester dam and the Liberty Mills dam were removed by Troy Eads Excavating of Lagro, Indiana. Physical removal of these two dams looked daunting and an activity of significant risk, but large excavating equipment in the hands of professional operators made the extraction seem simple.


It took two years to acquire all the necessary permits, but both dams were removed in less than one week. Removal of these two dams reconnected tributaries resulting in an additional 190 stream miles in the Eel River and set in motion new and novel opportunities for migration patterns.

Data from pre-removal and post-removal of the dams explained significant ecological lift at each site. In a nutshell, the data showed a 30 percent increase of two important measurements upstream of the dams after removal: Fish indices (fish population structure and function) and stream habitat score (factors that help support aquatic life). There was no effect from the sediment perched above the dams once it was released. Also observed were significantly fewer mussels in what were the pools behind the dams relative to below the dams. The data was scientifically defensible and a motivation to remove the remaining five dams in the basin. n

One intangible but important skill for young biologists is to get field experience in sampling techniques for fish and mussels, etc. Removal of the North Manchester and the Liberty Mills dam opened wide student participation. For example, it is very different to look at PowerPoint pictures of an electrofishing boat used to sample fish in a stream during a lecture, compared to actively using an electrofishing boat learning to net and identify fish in the field.

Equally valuable is learning to analyze the data to understand how it can be used to answer important scientific questions. An electrofishing boat is very expensive, and it was well beyond the college team’s budget.

One steamy hot day in July, our IDNR partner, Braun, brought his electrofishing boat to assist with fish sampling upstream of the North Manchester dam – one year after the dam was removed. He also brought a couple of his summer interns, and there were two Manchester College environmental studies interns present.

On a good day, there is always an element of danger with field work, especially with using electricity in water. The research team often joked that fish always bite on electricity. For safety, we depend mostly on professional training, but a little on professional logic (luck), and sometimes indescribable intervention from a higher being.

While electrofishing the research site in North Manchester, the severe weather siren in town sounded. It is important to mention that this experience predates cell phones and weather radar apps in the field. Having just completed collecting fish from the experimental site the storm arrived quickly along with strong winds, rain, and plenty of lightning.

The entire group quickly beached the boat on a sandbar about 100 feet upstream of the Market Street bridge in town. One of the IDNR interns and I were tasked with making sure the boat did not


dislodge from the sandbar and float downstream, while everyone else scampered below the bridge.

After securing the boat, the intern and I both made a straightway path to the bridge. But about halfway there, a lightning bolt struck a tree along the riverbank somewhere close. It was one of those bright flashes followed immediately by a frightfully loud clash of thunder. The pace increased. The strike was close enough to raise the hairs on my arm from the static electricity generated by the strike, or perhaps it was just fear.

Once safely under the bridge, the intern, who was wearing chest waders at the time, looked at Braun and me, and with a sheepish voice said, “I don’t have to pee anymore.” It was an adventure in the category of indescribable intervention from a higher being.


The university research team collaboration with the USFWS’s Henry and the National Fish Passageway Program (NFPP), which had its origin at the professional meeting in 2009, turned out to be the catalyst for Eel River restoration. While money is obviously the fuel for restoration initiatives, success relies on relationships. And these relationships were dynamite.

After removal of the North Manchester dam and the Liberty Mills dam, funding and support continued to remove the low-head dam in the small town of Mexico (River Mile 19). The Mexico dam was the first solid concrete dam to be built in Indiana and was constructed in 1910. By 2004, the relentless pressure from the river had compromised the structural integrity of the dam and it looked like a dam with a broken back.

The Mexico Dam, with its “broken back” in 2004, prior to removal.


In addition to blocking passage of fish, this was a very dangerous dam where there had been deaths and rescues through the years. Removal of the Mexico Dam in 2015 reconnected an additional 360 stream miles of the Eel River, creating new migration patterns and ensuring restoration of the waterway. But another dam – the Stockdale Mill Dam (River Mile 35), which was situated between Mexico and Liberty Mills dams – halted fish migration.

Research protocols used for the North Manchester Dam and the Liberty Mills Dam also were used at the Mexico Dam. The results were consistent. There was about a 30 percent increase in both fish habitat and fish community index scores after the dam was removed and there was a significant reduction in mussels found above the dam relative to below the dam and the areas of the river above the influence of the pool above the dam.

Patterns and trends in ecological research are like scientific gold and are often difficult to discover, but the ecological lift from removing dams in the Eel River has become quite clear. It had been just four years since the first grant to remove two dams and now a third dam had been removed. Removal of dams was gaining notice across Indiana and for sure in the eyes of our USFWS partners.

During the removal of the Mexico dam the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in Indianapolis was working on a documentary about low-head dams in Indiana. The Mexico removal along with the other removals were featured on the documentary “Over, Under, Gone: The killers in our rivers.”

While the focus of the documentary was on the danger low-head dams posed to humans, they did a good job of threading the ecological benefits, as well. While not a scholarly piece, it was good for young scientists to experience the value of public outreach and education. Scientists, too often, hide important work under a bushel.

One additional, interesting, and unexpected outcome during 2016 was recognition of Eel River restoration initiatives and partnerships. The Eel River basin was listed nationally as one of the top 10 watersheds in the United States and it received priority status in Indiana by the USFWS. Being featured in a documentary, being listed as a top watershed in the country, and becoming a priority watershed in Indiana is a testament to collaboration founded on serendipity.


One footnote at this point. Through increased funding from grants and private donations, environmental studies were picking up steam. People were taking note of the university team’s water quality research and removing the third dam from the river. Students also were showing great success in landing good jobs and being engaged in research.

As a result, the Environmental Studies Program was able to purchase an electrofishing boat, two


field trucks, fully equipped water-quality laboratory equipment, and all the technology required to complete the bathymetric maps (maps of the bottom of the river) above and below the dams.

Acquiring this equipment opened the opportunity to provide more intensive training for students through relevant ecological research experience. The environmental studies student enrollment increased from four in 2004 to more than 50 students in 2015.

Eel River research, including water-quality assessment through Section 319 grant programs and removal of the three dams not only provided funding for restoring the Eel River, but also provided the relevant experiential learning for students. During this time, increased funding allowed for 12 paid summer internships.


Removal of the fourth dam at Collamer was high on the priority list and in 2016 the team received partial funding from the National Fish Passage Program and permission from the property owner of the dam to have it removed. It was thrilling to receive this funding and a bit overwhelming to think that in four years the project had gone from zero dams removed to three dams removed and a fourth removal funded and on deck.

However, after receiving the grant to remove the Collamer Dam, the property along with the dam changed ownership. The new owner was opposed to removing the dam.

It may seem a bit odd, but in Indiana there is a riparian right, or common law, that allows people to own parts of the river if it is designated as a non-navigable stream. Navigability is obscure and poorly defined, and the entire Eel River is designated as non-navigable. Property owners can own the bottom of the river and a dam if it is present on their property. Property owners, however, do not own the water or any of the life in the river. The river must be quite confused by this Indiana law.

While sorting through options of how to approach the Collamer ownership dilemma, there was an invitation to participate as one of four people on a discussion panel about removing dams at a public meeting in Anderson, Indiana. Time was short, and it seemed a stretch to travel more than an hour to atttend this meeting. But it is hard to say no when the meeting was presented as a forum to support the greater good of river restoration.

Being one of four people on the panel was an uncomfortable venue, but the meeting was prophetic relative to expectations, and a wise decision to participate. The fruit of this experience came later as one of the most remarkable serendipitous moments on record.

In the audience, there happened to be a person who had no association with Manchester College, but who was impressed with our restoration research in the Eel River, and particularly with removal of low-head dams.


About a week after the meeting, this person reached out and wrote a check to the Environmental Studies Program for $145,000 to support restoration initiatives in the Eel River basin. Holy Cow!

This was a remarkable charitable gift from someone who obviously had the vision of ecological restoration and the cost of growing future scientists. The donation provided additional funds needed to remove the Collamer Dam and it paid for more student summer internships.

However, the problem of permission from the owner of the dam persisted. There were multiple attempts to convince the property owner to allow removal of the dam. The owner was aware that the Collamer Dam was extremely dangerous, and deaths had occurred at this dam with predictions of more to come. But this appeal to his empathetic side failed.

Unfortunately, in 2017 a young person lost their life and a second young person spent months in the hospital recovering after a tragic accident at the Collamer Dam. One young fellow went over the dam in his kayak during high water. Attempting to navigate a kayak over a dam during high water looks harmless and has the appeal of a good challenge. But at the toe of a low-head dam is a deadly hydraulic recirculation current that can easily trap and drown even the most physically fit.

Not only did the young person in the kayak drown, but a second young person nearly drowned during a rescue attempt. It was exceedingly sad and tragic.

The mother of the young person who died called once she heard there was money to remove the dam. She realized the owner was not willing to allow the dam to be removed and knew if this dam had been removed her son would still be alive. This was one of the most gut-wrenching conversations I’ve ever had, and my heart ached for this mother.

Even after this tragic accident, the property owner did not budge in his position to keep the dam intact. This dilemma persisted for a couple of years and the timetable for the grant was to expire in September 2020.

In the meantime, I met with the local Indiana Rep. Ethan Manning at the Collamer Dam to explain the story. He was so moved by it all that he wrote a new law focused on low-head dams. The short version of this bipartisan legislation was to provide an economic incentive for owners to have low-head dams removed.

The intact Collamer Dam prior to removal.

These incentives included warning signs posted at the owner’s expense, proof of liability insurance, and restrictions on how close someone could get to a dam.

As this legislation was making its way through the process of becoming law in 2019 something beyond understanding and hope happened.

In October 2019, a call came from a friend who asked jokingly what was the unspoken strategy that caused the foundation of the Collamer Dam to fail. It was a surreal conversation with my quick denial along with a witness list. There was a hardy chuckle with a confirmation that the foundation of the dam had failed and the pool behind the dam drained.

Stunned with disbelief, a trip past the Collamer Dam verified the report. Sure enough, the pool was drained and there was a gaping hole under the dam nearly big enough for a pickup truck. The owner of the dam tried hard to plug the hole with bags of sand, but competition between his ingenuity and the will of the river was not even a close contest.

The owner of the dam finally gave up his attempt to plug the hole and gave permission to remove the dam. The Collamer Dam was removed in January 2020, just months before the grant money was to expire.

The Collamer Dam after its foundation failed in October, 2019. The Eel River flowing freely after the removal of the Collamer Dam in January, 2020.

Removal of the Collamer Dam further supported the science of ecological lift that was documented at the other three Eel River low-head dam removals and clearly the Collamer Dam was a deadly dam that will never pose a threat again. Fish are now capable of moving from the Stockdale Mill Dam upstream throughout the basin of the 570 stream miles that have been reconnected via the North Manchester and Liberty Mills dams removals. The Collamer Dam removal added an additional 380 stream miles above the location of the Collamer, yet Stockdale remained a waterway roadblock.

What must fish think as they move past these places that were once inaccessible? While the Collamer Dam project was in motion, there were multiple conversations about what to do with the Stockdale Mill Dam, which remained an important historic dam at river mile 35 with a fully renovated and operational grain mill.

Plus, my wife Melinda and I live only a couple of miles from Stockdale, and when neighbors became aware of the dam removals at North Manchester, Liberty Mills and Mexico, I received a phone call from a neighbor and friend. His tone was friendly, but his meaning was clear: “Don’t even think about taking out the Stockdale Mill Dam.”

While the Stockdale Mill Dam is dangerous to humans and a major fish passage barrier, its historic nature and mill supersede its removal. One day the Stockdale Mill Dam will follow the fate of nature’s intervention at the Collamer Dam. We all know the river will eventually win.


In 2015, a phone call came from Donovan Henry, our USFWS partner, who explained an opportunity with a newly invented prototype fish passageway specifically to allow fish to pass around a dam like the Stockdale Mill Dam. He then asked if there was interest and without delay, a new phase for an Eel River restoration initiative began.

A new partnership with the Stockdale Mill Foundation, Boyd Kynard (inventor of the passageway), funding from the National Fish Passage Program, and the generous donation from the Collamer project, meant the stage was set to install this fish passageway around the Stockdale Mill Dam.

Many conversations among biologists focused on how to stick the fish passageway to the Earth securely. The river can be an unforgiving and formidable force of nature and this project took serious planning. This led to a conversation with a structural engineer friend, Martin Duffy. Duffy is a pragmatic fellow who listened intently to plans from our science team – none of whom were engineers – for installation of the fish passageway around the dam. After quietly pondering our plan, Duffy gave a look over his glasses and said, “You all should stick to being biologists.”


His comment was brutally honest and correct. But it was a pridefully, humbling painful admission to affirm his counsel.

The passageway, also called a fish ladder, is a structure comprised of ascending pools that fish access by swimming against a stream of water, allowing for a detour around the dam. This particular passageway is essentially a two-foot cube with baffles, set at an 8 percent slope over a distance of 80 feet. It was tested by Boyd Kynard in his hydraulics laboratory in Massachusetts, but never tested in the real world.

But Kynard is an extraordinary fish passage scientist with decades of research experience. This is the stuff of dreams founded on science and an unscripted but exceptional experience for students. The passageway was installed in 2016 along with a sophisticated electronic system to detect fish with Passive Integrated Transponders (PITs), which are microchips like those used or microchips like those used with pet dogs and cats.

Several thousand fish were tagged with the hope of describing how well the fish passageway worked. After installation in 2016, the passageway was opened for business in 2017. There was a contingent of USFWS partners along with a few students present at the inaugural opening. As far as it’s known, it had been about 150 years since fish had free passage at this point in the river.

Would they remember what to do? Is this two-foot opening large enough relative to the 200-footlong dam? Was this going to be a successful stream restoration investment? The questions were numerous, and mostly relied on professional logic and a hope that fish below the dam still had the DNA that gave them instructions to move upstream.

An aerial view of the fish passageway that provides a detour around the Stockdale Dam, installed in 2016.

The water is rarely as clear as it was on that day. We all stood watching the clear water flow through the passageway, but no fish. What happened next was adults instantly transformed, acting like children on Christmas, full of excitement.

After about 30 minutes of watching water flow through the system, a few fish appeared in the fish passageway! But soon following the few were hundreds of fish swirling in the back eddies created by the baffles and out the upstream exit of the passageway.

Somewhere deep in the DNA of these fish, they retained the instinct to swim upstream albeit through a two-foot cube with baffles set at an 8 percent slope.

Since this defining moment in 2017, 52 out of 61 species have been documented in the river going through the passageway. At the end of the sampling year of 2021, more than 35,000 individual fish were captured in a trap net three days each week.

As a fish swims, the Eel River was completely reconnected at this moment from the two last dams in the river at Logansport throughout the entire watershed, a distance of nearly 1,200 stream miles of the Eel River.

Since 2017, there has been one master’s degree and multiple undergraduate research projects focused on the fish passageway. It has been a wildly successful restoration tool. No one is privy to all of nature’s secrets. No one knows how long the Stockdale Mill Dam will be able to withstand the forces of the river, but the waterway will eventually win the ebb and flow of resistance. In the meantime, fish can swim around the dam and have access to new homes upstream. Restoration initiatives and partnerships have clearly helped the river to heal and have been the fuel to set in motion careers of many young scientists. Experiential learning and scientific inquiry works, and unquestionably the antidote to standardized education. In 2015, a project came out of left field, but then again, most of the Eel River restoration projects had similar origins.


In addition to extensive research on fish, a great deal of time was spent surveying the presence and absence of freshwater mussels throughout the basin under the patient guidance of Brant Fisher, nongame aquatic biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Freshwater mussels are some of the most imperiled animals in North America, and perhaps the underdog of endangered animals. They are cold and “clammy” but are the most intriguing animals on the planet.


They do not make long-distance migrations like American eels. In fact, they move very slowly or not at all. But their attempt to take over the world order is nothing short of miraculous.

Many species of mussels extend a lure on their posterior end that may look like a fish, crawdad, or even a small worm. Remember, these animals have no eyes, so they have never seen any of the animals their lures have so masterfully copied.

When a fish comes along and tries to eat the lure, the mussel releases tiny larval forms called glochidia. Glochidia look like small clams with fangs. Once released, the glochidia grab hold of either the gills or fins of the fish. Here the glochidia uses the fish blood as nutrition and to hitch a ride wherever the fish decides to go.

At the appropriate developmental phase, the tiny mussel will drop off the fish and with a little, or rather a lot of luck, the tiny mussel lands in a suitable habitat where it can survive. Here it will live not venturing far from its landing pad in hopes of successfully passing along genetic information to the next generation with the hope of taking over the world. The probability of all this happening is quite slim, but until Europeans made their mark, the system worked well.

A plain pocketbook mussel extends a lure.

It is a fragile system, and the population of most species is perched on the cusp of extirpation or extinction. One solution to helping mussels is to reintroduce species back to the streams where they have been extirpated or endangered.

This was exactly the opportunity that came out of left field.

Clubshell (Pleurobema clava) is a relatively small, brown, nondescript, federally endangered species that was common in the Eel River, as it was in many Indiana streams. One of the challenges of ecosystem restoration is that we must work with no scientific data to explain why this species or that species is in danger of extirpation or extinction. A great job of documenting the demise of rare and endangered species continues while pretending like intervention is none of anyone’s business.


But occasionally it works. This is the case for clubshell mussels. Hundreds of dead shells from clubshell can be found, but diligent searches throughout the basin to find a remnant population proved unsuccessful.

Here is where the story gets interesting. A bridge over the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania was scheduled for demolition and replacement. Under this bridge, and in the Allegheny River is the last place on Earth where clubshell mussels can be found by the thousands.

Before the bridge could be replaced, thousands of mussels had to be relocated out of harm’s way for the construction of the new bridge.

Someone had a brilliant idea: Rather than moving the mussels upstream or downstream of the construction site, what if the clubshell could be to be reintroduced in streams where they once thrived, if water quality has sufficiently improved?

The Eel River was selected to participate in this experiment. In 2015, the university project received 150 clubshell mussels from the Allegheny River. Under the guidance of IDNR’s Fisher, 50 mussels were placed in three locations of the river. Each mussel had a PIT tag glued to its shell and placed carefully in a systematic grid. The tag, along with the systematic approach, helped to relocate the mussels in future surveys.

No one knew yet if the water quality had improved enough for these animals to live. Remember, the Jay Taylor canoe trip experience in 1965? This was literally like dropping a canary in a coal mine.

In 2016, the research team returned to each of the three sites and located mussels by the PIT tags. We found 149 out of the 150 mussels alive and looking quite healthy. We were thrilled to find this many mussels alive!

As a result, another 3,000 additional clubshell mussels arrived in the summer of 2016. With student help, 1,000 mussels were strategically placed at each of the three locations. Mussels have been checked each summer and survival is about 95 percent. What is unknown at this time is if the mussels have successfully reproduced. The next research step is to verify if young mussels are out there.

University students place clubshell mussels in the Eel River during the reintroduction experiment. Each mussel had a PIT tag glued to its shell.

Finding a clubshell mussel out of the prescribed grid is like finding a needle in a haystack.

All mussels received from the Allegheny River either had a PIT tag or a spot of green glitter. If a mussel is located during future surveys without green glitter or a PIT tag, then it can be assured there is a reproducing population.

Restoration of a stream ecosystem can come along in many forms, but few could rival the humility and gratitude for the chance to return a species extirpated to its stream home.

If one listens intently, the river speaks to what is right.


While retirement was for decades an abstract idea, it came for me in 2018. Teaching at Manchester College and mentoring young scientists came to an end. It was an indescribable feeling of gratitude and happiness to know that the work and collaborators had opened doors of opportunity that will make the Earth a better place.

Some progress would be considered small steps while others closer to large leaps.

Graduates of the environmental studies program who participated in the small and large Eel River restoration initiatives are now scattered across the United States. I could not be prouder, and frankly more humbled, to learn about their accomplishments.

When my wife – an integral part of all the research – and I retired, we had a long list of places to travel and particularly we had a list of places to go fishing and camping. We regularly took students on travel courses to expand their world.

We took students to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska and to Andros Island, Bahamas. My advice to all students was to visit a glacier and snorkel over a coral reef. Both systems are changing rapidly before our very eyes. The trips were extraordinary, but finding time to feel even a little relaxed with a dozen college students tagging along was not an option.

Our first retirement adventure was to volunteer at the Ding-Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida during the winter of 2018. We purchased a small – but what we thought was not too small – truck camper that fit into the back of our pickup truck, as our new home.

We arrived at the volunteer camping area on Sanibel Island in November. There were six spots for volunteers to camp. All other volunteers had rigs that dwarfed our little camper by at least one order of magnitude.


But there we were, excited to assist with the education and outreach program of the refuge. It was a great experience sprinkled with volunteer responsibilities and new places to explore. It was impossible to be on Sanibel Island and not think about the Eel River and what will happen to future restoration initiatives.

It was during our time at Ding-Darling that it became clear our research, partnerships, and restoration of the Eel River basin was not going to come to a quick and discrete end. There was so much more to do, and it was unthinkable and disheartening to imagine it would end. This epiphany planted the seed for Ecosystems Connections Institute, LLC.

Our dear friend and former student, Herb Manifold, my wife, a highly valued business friend, and I set out to form the Ecosystems Connections Institute dedicated to performing ecological interventions. This business idea derailed our planned retirement adventures, albeit for the greater good. Through the lens of serendipity, it all came together.

We were able to step in and resurrect the fish passageway, water-quality research in Beargrass Creek, smallmouth bass research, freshwater mussel surveys, and removal of dams. What we thought would be laser focused on the Eel River grew into restoration work from southern Michigan to the Ohio River.

The Final Connection

One morning in December 2019, while at the computer pondering the Eel River restoration work, there was a random thought about the last two dams in the river at Logansport. If these two dams could be removed, the entire basin would be reconnected as a fish swims. What a challenge!

The downstream dam at Logansport was 200-feet long and three-feet tall and the upstream dam was 435-feet long and 10-feet tall. It was a monstrous dam, and the university projects had not removed a dam this long. The larger dam was about 650 feet upstream of the smaller downstream dam.

These two dams were referred to as the dams never to be removed. But on a whim that morning, an email was sent to Paul Hartman, the superintendent of the Logansport Municipal Utilities (LMU) to request a meeting and discuss the two dams. He agreed.

When meeting with Hartman, we explained the historical research to improve fish passage by removing dams and putting in the fish passageway at the Stockdale Mill Dam. Then, in the most diplomatic way that could be conjured, the question was posed.


Would the LMU be interested in removing the two dams at Logansport? We expected an unequivocal no. But what he said shook the very foundation of the Eel River ecological soul. His response was, “Can you have them removed before I retire in a year?”

A poker face is lacking in my DNA and this time was no exception. There was an almost irresistible urge to jump across his desk and give him a big hug, but then just before making that bad decision, there was a highly professional controlled response of “sure thing.” n

Taking down a dam of any size is no small venture and especially one that was at the bottom of the basin and 435 feet long. After the historic meeting with Hartman, the electrons flowed fast and furious in the form of emails to restoration partners. They were thrilled to join forces on funding, public meeting assistance, permits, and moral support to judiciously navigate through the permit processes. It was a long permit journey that extended past the retirement of Paul Hartman.

Fortunately for the project, the new LMU Superintendent Greg Toth was enthusiastically supportive of the project and a heck of a nice guy, too. In fact, he used removal of the two dams as an incentive to revitalize this part of Logansport by razing the nearby antiquated water plant and a large and very antiquated coal-fired electric generating facility.

Solid support for removal of the dams came from the Logansport Municipal Utilities, United States Fish and Wildlife, National Fish Passage Program, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake and River Enhancement. Donovan Henry, the project’s long-time restoration USFWS partner and director of NFPP was instrumental with his support, and he helped secure significant funding to remove both dams.

In November 2021, both Logansport dams were removed from the Eel River just shy of two years after the first meeting with Hartman. It took one day to remove the smaller dam, but the upper dam was a more formidable piece of concrete that seemed perfectly and contently positioned across the river. But 14 days later, it too, became history.

The larger dam was built on top of a fossilized coral reef that arched from the descending right bank across the entire river channel. This Devonian reef was formed when Indiana was under the sea many millions of years ago and is dotted with small whirlpools and multiple waterfalls along the downstream edge of the reef. The design of the reef now visible without the dam would rival the work of even the most talented artist.


The old reef bears scars where the rock surface was polished smooth by the receding Wisconsin Glacier and later washed clean from the descending water in the Eel. All this was buried either under the concrete of the dam or the sediment behind the dam. This is, without debate, one of the most beautiful emerging streams in northern Indiana.

It takes at least a year for the river to heal after removing a dam of this size, but the river will choose the prudent prescription. In just nine years, the Eel River basin is completely reconnected to 1,200 miles of stream.

The first dam built in the Eel River was constructed at Logansport in 1832 and for the first time in 190 years fish can move from the Wabash River throughout the Eel River basin. The Wabash River is the longest free flowing river east of the Mississippi River with no dams from its confluence with the Ohio River to the Roush Lake Dam near Huntington, Indiana, extending 411 miles.

Fish now have all kinds of new vacation options.

Surveys recorded 61 fish species above the Logansport dams before removal and there are at least 48 fish species below the Logansport dams not on the fish scorecard above it. This represents a possible 78 percent increase in fish species that have regained access to the Eel River.

There are 15 species of mussels below the Logansport Dams that are not found above the dams and good candidates for recolonization. Our restoration work relative to fish passage is complete.

In 2022, Ecosystems Connections Institute was awarded a grant to study how the fish community changes throughout the basin over a three-year period. This is an unprecedented opportunity to increase understanding of fish passage in a newly restored stream.

Fish are typically viewed as animals with relatively small brains and some may even argue not particularly bright. There is even a bumper sticker that suggests fish could avoid trouble if they would just keep their mouth shut. Simple counsel for a simple-minded animal and us too.

But the looming question to ponder is whether after nearly 200 years, would these simple yet complex animals remember that they should swim upstream or did they forget? During fish surveys in June 2022 and just shy of six months after removal of the dams, the fish provided an answer. Four new species were found upstream of the dams!

A longnose gar traveled the greatest distance and was captured 35 miles upstream. A logperch, freshwater drum, and shorthead redhorse were captured between six and 10 miles upstream. They remembered their way home to ancestral parts of the river and in the process gave all of us science geeks a glimpse into their world.


“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”

It is safe to add streams to Leop0ld’s list. We are all collectively grateful for the river, for the science that allows us to listen, and for people who so kindly, honestly, and curiously care about the Eel River.

The upper dam on the Eel River in Logansport before removal, above, and during removal, right.

After the removal of the Logansport dams, the Eel River basin is completely reconnected to 1,200 miles of stream.

Photo: Avon Waters Photo: Avon Waters

Restoration Through Listening

“While colonized by the arrogance of science, I had been fooling myself that I was the only teacher.

The land [river] is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open minds.”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, environmental scientist, teacher and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

The idea that we are separate or isolated from universal natural and physical laws is an illusion. Our connection with natural systems that sustain our physical and mental survival has grown dim through a culture of disconnection. We need a cultural shift that sees value in a healthy stream ecosystem for itself and for us.

The Eel River ecosystem has experienced significant ecological trauma and cultural shifts since the first dam was placed across the river at Logansport in 1828. Perhaps much of this ecological trauma and cultural injustice was the unintended consequences as the vast forests and intact and interwoven natural systems were dismantled.

The basin has experienced the elimination of native cultures, extirpation of species, degraded water quality, and a culture that viewed the river as simply a place to deposit waste. Thank goodness a collective awareness and understanding of stream ecosystems has slowly been moving in a positive direction, and occasionally things go right.

But there is much more to do. There remains a daunting list. Success is founded on the professional shoulders and scientific endeavors upon which this work is built. Unrealized and often forgotten, the work of those who preceded this journey laid the foundation.

Ed Braun, who was a fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for decades, worked on the Eel River. His work was good science and a constant source of inspiration. Hopefully this project’s shoulders are broad enough to lift and inspire a new generation of restoration limnologists and people who live in the area to build upon this restoration initiative.

There are three challenges that are on the front burner.

The first is not limited to the Eel River basin, but rather a universal steep upward movement for funding to restore natural systems like lakes, streams, and forests is needed. The cupboard is bare.


One day, standing at the fish passageway with a congressional legislative assistant, I explained the value the passageway brought to preserving European cultural history and allowing fish to migrate for the first time in over 150 years.

His response was: “This must have cost a great deal of money.” My reply was quick and without weighing the political pros and cons. I said that the fish passageway cost far less than a cruise missile and did not kill anyone.

Fixing broken streams or any natural system through ecological restoration is far from being a funding priority relative to other competing interests. Except for a small circle of dissenters, our culture has not embraced conservation sticker shock relative to the value of a healthy stream or lake.

It takes money to restore broken natural systems like the Eel River basin, but we struggle to understand the true costs and negative externalities from our human endeavors as it relates to clean water on a large scale. There are many reasons why it is plausible to have productive and profitable human endeavors across the watershed and a clean and healthy Eel River. Adequate funding for ecological restoration remains the largest challenge. Period.

Secondly, nonpoint source pollutants from agriculture must be addressed in different and more innovative ways. To date, systemic loss of nutrients and sediment from agricultural landscapes remains largely unaddressed. The solution is complex and complicated. It requires a paradigm shift in the agricultural world. It is coming, albeit ever so slowly. However, the effects of nutrient and sediment loss are visible from a watershed dominated by agricultural endeavors in those areas that receive the outflow.

Examples include natural lakes in northern Indiana that are suffering from chronic phosphorus pollution, the western basin of Lake Erie, and even the Gulf of Mexico with the associated hypoxic zone that covers thousands of square miles. Humans have not quite come to grasp with the idea that gravity makes water flow downhill and it has no respect or understanding of political boundaries.

The water is simply looking for a path to a lower elevation and will take with it what society allows. This ginormous challenge requires more listening and has no respect for endless conversations at professional conferences, strategic plans, or political debates.

Thirdly, and much simpler than task one and task two, but no less important, is a pragmatic restoration experiment started in the Eel River. There are few restoration initiatives that could be more profound with unlimited potential than reintroduction of an obscure aquatic plant called eelgrass (Vallisneria americana).


The placing of the first 150 clubshell mussels into the Eel River in 2015 was an important test.

We were certain that these animals lived in the Eel River at one time because their dead shells could still be found. What was not known was whether whatever was responsible for their demise was still present. The results from this reintroduction suggest that water quality has improved and the clubshell seems to concur. It’s a good sign.

But what about an aquatic plant suspected to have been quite common in the river? Eelgrass grows in the river underwater. It is called submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and according to anecdotal evidence and our intuitive professional logic, this plant is suspected to have been quite common throughout the river at one time.

A chemical called Atrazine used to grow corn may be responsible for the lack of eelgrass today. Atrazine still is used to grow corn but in smaller doses than when it was first available in the late 1950s. Since 2019, test plots of eelgrass have been growing and in 2021, a formal study was completed in collaboration with a Kevin Pangle at Central Michigan University. Kim Schraitle was a master’s student who completed the study. The data suggest a future with optimism. It appears the water quality is good enough that eelgrass can survive.

The next big step is to find what scientists call the minimum viable population. This is a science geeky way of saying how many plants need to survive before there is a sustainable and reproducing population. Nature is a cold and cruel place with an ebb and flow of populations and complex interactions that scientists live to explore. It is like a large jigsaw puzzle. Let’s face it though, eelgrass is a highly desirable menu item for many animals, including Canada geese, muskrats, ducks of all kinds, and more. If the reintroduction works, eelgrass will change the Eel River forever.

The final part of the equation is funding!

The Upshot

The Eel River has been a journey overflowing with scientific endeavors and founded on grace, hope, professional logic, serendipity, hard work, sensitivity toward the past, present, and future, and a dedicated group of collaborators with an endless sense of wonder. Thinking about the upshot of efforts collectively conjured up a memory.

A few years into my tenure at Manchester College, an administrator told me I was working too many hours. During our conversation, he informed me that working for an institution or business of any kind makes no difference after you are gone. It was a bewildering concept, and he explained in more detail.


He shared the following analogy to illustrate his world view of work: When you stick your finger in a glass of water and pull it out, this is how much of a hole you leave when you are gone.

This was a novel concept. It generated sincere sympathy for him and it shook my philosophical ship slightly. While this analogy was shared in good faith, it is unquestionably misguided and just plain wrong. It made me grateful to be a professor and to be a restoration limnologist.

If there is any one endeavor that would rival mentoring young biologists, it would have to be restoration limnology. Collaborative hands who have put their fingers in the Eel River restoration glass of water and pulled them out did not leave a hole but a mountain of accomplishments.

The healing of the Eel River will persist into perpetuity, and it has given voice to that which had no voice and endured the relentless and indiscriminate ecological trauma over decades.

Working in partnership with so many wonderful people, including many students, toward a common goal is unquestionably the most humbling and gratifying experience of any professional career. With gratitude all involved made a difference both for the Eel River itself and for all those in the past, present, and future who will find great joy, peace, and gratitude at the Eel River.

Plus, we had fun on the river.


Melinda and I live on a 40-acre property along the Eel River just downstream a couple of miles of the Stockdale Mill Dam. We accidentally found this little property while on a trip to collect river water from one of our research sites.

The late Ken and Viona Brown were dear friends, and when Melinda told them about this property we had found along the Eel River, how excited we were to find it and that we were considering buying it, our friends gave sage advice.

Viona softly yet forcefully said, “This property is calling you.” Her words were prophetic and convincing. Upon her advice and without regret, we purchased this small parcel along the Eel River. Our property is on a gravel trail littered with moderate potholes and two large sugar maple trees arching completely over the road. Ours is a narrow band of forest facing the Eel River. It is easy to imagine we are living in an endless wilderness and not a property surrounded by corn and beans.

There is a 15-acre flood plain field that borders the river and a smaller upland field separated by a band of trees on the escarpment to the east. The soils are poor by farmer standards and a testament to the ability of flowing water to separate out sediment particles.


The water left us with sand, and lots of it. There is plenty of evidence where farmers over the decades tried to make a living from our poor soil and occasionally flooded fields, and they appear to have been quite stubborn.

Our forest shows indisputable evidence of heavy grazing from cows and the cultivated fields hold a seed bank of every sun-loving weedy plant species on the planet. We reforested the flood plain field and put prairie plants on the higher sections of the field and on the upland fields.

The prairie planting is our attempt to pound a square peg in a round hole. Our property wants to be and will be a forest, but we have a strong affection for prairie flowers and grasses. During our short stint of painting this ecological picture, we will do our level best to enjoy walks through the changing prairie landscape. We have a series of paths that circle through property with a clear bias toward views of the river. It is here we find peace, constancy, time to listen, and unfailing fodder for our sense of wonder.

Our little house is perched on a hill that looks over the Eel River valley through a forest. During the summer, trees obscure our view of the water, but we know it is there because we can hear the water tumble over the boulders and cobble and from the sounds of canoeist who frequent the river.

During times when the water levels in the river are elevated from heavy rains, the water sounds like a strong rushing wind through treetops with no leaves in the winter. There is no reason to believe the sounds of water tumbling over boulders and cobble are any different today than the time before native Americans were unacceptably forced to leave their homes.

While the sounds are the same, it is important to wonder how the river has changed. How have cultural world views toward the river changed? Will we recognize the value of this stream so full of life as an important resource? Will we bend our cultural pride to appreciate and invest resources in healing broken streams and lakes? They are part of our community, and we are part of theirs. The river deserves restoration and reconciliation for itself without a cost benefit analysis. The reciprocal value the river gives back is priceless.


“One summer day, a woman from the city, lost in the country, drove up our lane to inquire directions.

She sat in her car looking around.

Chipmunks raced along the stone walls. Birds sang in the trees. A woodchuck sat up in the pasture.

‘What kind of farm is this?’ she asked. Then after a long pause she said: ‘Oh I get it. It’s a fun thing.’

That is not exactly the way Nellie and I think of Trail Wood. For us it is a farm with a different kind of harvest.

We are farmers who cultivate a different sort of crop. Our fields are unplanted. But they are not unused.

The yield for us is made of observations and memories, of greater understanding and little adventures by the way.”

– Edwin Way Teale, “A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm” n n n


Eel River Restoration Projects: Past and Present

n Indiana Department of Environmental Management 319(h) grant of $600,000 to examine water quality in the middle Eel basin and provide more than $200,000 cost-share for agricultural producers (2009-2018).

n Indiana Department of Natural Resources smallmouth bass survey, which allowed sampling approximately 40 miles of the Eel River in 2015 and 2016 to determine the status and trends in smallmouth bass population structure.

n Beargrass Creek/Pawpaw Creek paired watershed research project, funded by the Indiana State Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts with the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance. The project examined two critical tributaries to the Eel River, with a goal to compare the efficacy of upland conservation practices on nutrient and sediment export along with stream biological integrity (2014-2019). Local farmers made cash contributions to keep this research funded.

n Beargrass Creek watershed research project, funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and a Conservation Innovation Grant through Natural Resources Conservation Service. Project objective was to examine the entire 12-digit Beargrass watershed for high priority conservation areas and target those areas for conservation farming technologies. Fish and wildlife monitoring were integrated into this project (2015-2017).

n Natural Resources Conservation Service partnered with Manchester College Environmental Studies Program to bring an additional $400,000 to the middle Eel River watershed for cost-share conservation dollars through the Mississippi River Basin Initiative. During this period, Beargrass Creek was designated as a National Water Quality Initiative watershed. This designation brought an additional $2 million as cost-share for farmers.


n Two dams (North Manchester and Liberty Mills) were successfully removed through a grant from the National Fish Passageway Program in 2012.

n One dam was removed in the town of Mexico in November 2016. This removal was part of a PBS documentary on safety at dams, “Over, Under, Gone: The killers in our rivers”.

n The Eel River basin was named as one of the top 10 watersheds in the country for conservation accomplishments in 2016 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

n Construction of a 1,500-foot natural channel design drainage (two-stage ditch) in upper Beargrass Creek in partnership with USFWS and National Fish Passage Program (NFPP): $60,000

n A 205(j) grant from Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to write a water management plan (WMP) and monitor the upper middle portion of the Eel basin: $600,000

n Reintroduction of clubshell mussels to the Eel River through a partnership with Brant Fisher of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and USFWS: $10,000

n Installation of the Boyd Kynard experimental fish passageway around the Stockdale Mill Dam.

n Collamer Mill Dam removed: January 2020.

n The two last dams in the Eel River basin removed: November 2021. The Eel River basin is now completely reconnected.

n Research of fish recolonization of the Eel River Basin: 2022-2025.

n Experimental reintroduction of eelgrass (Vallisneria americana), ongoing research beginning in 2021.

n Countless ongoing lectures and public presentations.


Jason Goldsmith is Professor of English and program director of the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series at Butler University, where he teaches courses on literature, art, and the environment.

Exploring the twinned unraveling of social and ecological networks in an age of environmental crisis, his essays and paintings have appeared in River Teeth, Grasmere, Humana Obscura, as well as on the cover of publications from the University of Iowa Press.

He enjoys hiking, sitting by a river sketching, and spending time outdoors with his wife and children.

Any vision for the future of Indiana’s waterways must include a commitment to the original inhabitants who lived, and who continue to live, within their watersheds. We need to collaborate with Indigenous communities. To partner with Black communities, as well.

Drawn to Water


Nearly a decade ago – in the mid 2000s – I decided to paddle the length of the White River. This was somewhat out of character. You see, I prefer my nature to be solid and, whenever possible, sloping upward.

As a child, I dreamed of climbing Mount Everest. And while I wisely shifted my ambitions, the high places have been a constant presence in my life. I’ve trekked the Andes, motorcycled the Blue Ridge Mountains, been mountain biking in the Rockies, hiked the Alps, cycled in the Pyrenees, and spent several weeks walking the fells of England’s Lake District.

But Indiana, in case you haven’t noticed, doesn’t have mountains. Barely even hills. It is flat and wide and flat and wide. I had moved to Indianapolis to take up a job teaching 19th-century British literature at Butler University. At the time, I was filled with an awful emptiness, homesick in my new home. As with the Romantic poets that I studied, nature had always offered me a sense of belonging. In the hope of sparking some internal correspondence, I looked around and found myself, for the first time in my life, drawn to water.

Author’s Note

This essay would not have been possible without the assistance of numerous individuals, particularly George Ironstrack, Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University of Ohio, and Logan York, Tribal Archaeology Coordinator of the Archaeological Research Institute.

I thank them for sharing their stories with me.

In an attempt to learn, I listened. I tried to do so with humility. I realize how little I know, and how much more I have to learn.

I offer these stories with the permission of those who shared them, in the hope that we might all look to our past so that we can better see the present.

All artwork accompanying this essay produced by the author, Jason Goldsmith.


The White River is the defining natural feature of central Indiana, and I imagined that its course –a corollary of Thoreau’s Walden Pond – might place me in this unfamiliar landscape, might somehow make this place a home. So, I researched outfitters and planned excursions to cover as many river miles as possible. I joined a protest paddle. I borrowed kayaks, canoes, and friends. I zigged and zagged across country lanes to reach the river’s headwaters. I purchased and returned an inflatable kayak. I bribed my wife to drop me off and pick me up at remote locations.

My enthusiasm, I confess, far outpaced my experience. Over the course of a year, I managed to be on the water a total of seven times. I covered some 81 river miles. That’s about 20 percent of the White River’s 362-mile length. I was as far upriver as Muncie. And my southernmost mark was Spencer. My escapade – for what else can I now call it – revealed to me the delusion of self-containment. It is possible, although very difficult, to paddle a river alone. The river flows downstream. You need to transport the canoe to your launching point, and you need a vehicle waiting at the takeout, or someone willing to ferry you to and from these locations. Often, although not always, I paddled with a rotating cast of friends. The logistics of it all took their toll.


August 21, 2013

The river here is wide and shallow and the current slow-moving. The sound of cicadas is like waves rolling ashore, coming and going. A great blue heron lifts slowly from the branch of a dead sycamore, glides gracefully downstream to land on another branch. The blue sheen of its wings marks it as an adult. We dance downstream like this, he and I, for a good mile. There is something otherworldly about these birds, gorgeous and vaguely prehistoric, visitors from another age. The neck curled in and under, the heron appears, from behind, hunchbacked, and this adds to the surprise when it uncoils and spreads itself, elegant and sleek against the sky. Such moments remind me that I am the visitor, ungainly and awkward.

Floating in the muddy water is a baby painted turtle. Astonished, I scoop it up. It’s tiny body no larger than a quarter nestled in my palm. An intricate filigree of yellow stripes coils around its face. Grateful for this encounter, I set it back in the river, thinking about its chances. Fewer than 20 percent survive into adulthood.

I beach the canoe and sit for lunch on the pebbled shore between the water and a wide thatch of poison ivy. Across the way, a woodchuck ambles along the muddy bank. A plover skims the river’s


surface, a shimmer of light and shadow. A heron chases a hawk downstream, something dangling from its talons. They disappear around a bend in the river.

Later, the trees give way as the river widens approaching the low-head dam near the Riverwood Power Station. Constructed in 1922 as part of the Holliday hydroelectric project, the dam altered the river three miles upstream. The near-still surface is scummed with pollen and cottonwood seeds. The wide low banks are enveloped in cattails and coneflower, goldenrod and riverbank grape. Blue-tailed damselflies alight on the canoe’s gunwales. A bright-red dragonfly – an autumn meadowhawk – flickers on my oar.

I portage around the dam and watch two female kingfishers play. One flops into the sunlit river, then launches back at her partner.

I am not around water enough.

The banks of the river are high once again. Trees line the riverside. I see a hollowed-out stump which curls around itself. The upper rim is dark brown; the lower is gray. The twisted, curling roots bring to mind the detailed drapery of Michelangelo’s Pieta, perhaps an apt symbol of our relationship to nature, one of pain, of suffering and redemption, of love and devotion. One in which art offers us a profound reflection of ourselves. A representation that encourages us to think beyond mere representation. The tree, the white marble, the human figure. Each one embodied, existing in a particular place at a particular moment.

Field Sketch, colored pencil, 8¼ x 5 inches



With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that the logistical challenges were the least problematic aspect of this project. Far more troubling was the long tradition of Western individualism that informed it. The American myth of the rugged individualist, a drama so played out that I didn’t even recognize it at the time. Did I imagine myself some sort of pioneer, a modern-day Meriwether Lewis, striking off to explore and map this unfamiliar land? I saw the river as a tool for my own selfactualization. So focused on my own need, there was little, if any, concern for the river itself; no sense that it had its own rhythms. Every time I paddled it, every time I stood on its banks and gazed out at its twists and turns, its backchannels, and its oxbows, it was telling me its story. The river speaks of time. There is mystery in its passage. There is life and there is loss. Immeasurable sustenance and immense suffering. But I didn’t want to learn from nature, I wanted to master it. Not consciously, of course. And herein lies the problem.


May 31, 2014

“Welcome to the West Fork,” a man with a thick gray beard bellows. People look up, gather around. “I’ll be damned,” he says, emphasizing the pun, “if they’re gonna build that dam!” The crowd cheers. We are in the gravel parking lot of Canoe Country Outfitter in Daleville. My friend Dick, a biologist at Butler and an ardent environmentalist, had invited me to join him to protest a proposed dam along the White River in Andersonville. The dam, initiated by the Anderson Corporation for Economic Development and supported by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and public officials, would create a 2,100-acre reservoir. Some 1,000 acres of hardwood forest would be flooded, along with one-third of Mounds State Park including the entire nature preserve, home to numerous plants and animals unique to its rare fen ecosystem. The proposed lake might also impact the monumental earthworks constructed by the Adena and Hopewell peoples more than 2,000 years ago, a cultural treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our goal was to raise awareness of and opposition to the project by paddling the eight miles from Daleville past Mounds State Park to Anderson, the proposed site of the dam. About 50 people mill about, finishing their coffee, checking kayaks and canoes, fastening life-preservers. I look around and realize I’m one of the younger participants, which isn’t saying much. Despite the


variety of environmental slogans displayed on their brightly colored t-shirts, the group is distinctly homogeneous. They are nearly all white, in their 50s, with graying hair, beards, and bucket hats.

As we launch our boats, the water is clear enough to see down to the pebbled bottom.

Paddling the West Fork, ink & watercolor, 2½ x 5½ inches

September 26, 2021

At Mounds State Park, I wander the wide floodplain through tangles of orange jewelweed. In the river, fallen snags send small whirlpools spinning downstream. The water is the color of weak coffee with a teaspoon of skim milk.

I make my way up the high bluff. A juvenile five-lined skink, its blue tail shimmering in the sunlight, searches for insects between the ridges of a white oak. Ten eponymous mounds of various sizes exist in the park, constructed during the Early Middle Woodland period (ca. 1000 – 200 BCE) by the Adena. These early peoples were especially active in Indiana and Ohio along large streams and other bodies of water. More than 300 such sites have been identified in Indiana.


Oak and walnut trees cast long shadows. The largest and most well preserved of the park’s monumental structures, the Great Mound was completed around 160 BCE. Measuring a quarter of a mile in circumference, the mound consists of a flat, central platform surrounded by a shallow ditch and a raised embankment. A walkway leading through a break in the embankment gives access to the platform. Cleared of the trees that crowd the mound today, the central platform would have provided open views in all directions.

Although later Hopewell-culture tombs were found here, the mounds were not burial sites. Rather, they served religious and ceremonial functions. Dips in the embankment are aligned to mark astronomical events – winter and summer solstices, fall and spring equinoxes – and oriented toward several prominent stars.

It is quiet. I stand at the center of the mound, the sun beating down on my neck, and marvel at the distance between myself and those who made this place, raised its embankment, aligned it to the night sky as the Earth turned beneath them. This very place where I am standing. As I turn to go, I look up and see the half-moon, pale against the blue sky.


I realize now that my wish to paddle the river’s length was repeating a colonial-settler understanding of the land as natural, unpopulated, wild. Only, today, as then, the land wasn’t unknown. I was simply ignorant of its social history.

The White River was particularly valuable to the Adena and Hopewell. It was a source of food, travel, and trade. Long before the arrival of European settlers, complex and sophisticated cultures developed here in equilibrium with the land. Archaeological evidence indicates extensive trade networks that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast to the deserts. Although it is impossible to identify a direct line of descent between these Woodland period cultures and the named tribes that followed them, Indigenous peoples occupied the area we now call Indiana for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.

Following the end of the Beaver Wars – when the Iroquois had sought to expand their control of the fur trade into the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley – the Myaamiaki, the Miami, returned to Indiana around 1700, settling along the Wabash and Mississinewa rivers. Situated at the confluence of the Maumee and St. Joseph Rivers, Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne) was the largest capital village for generations and a strategic portage connecting Lake Erie to the Mississippi. More than just providing physical sustenance, the river formed the core of Miami cultural identity. The Miami origin story


begins: “Mihtami Myaamiaki nipinkonci saakaciweeciki” – “At first the Miami came out of the water.” The river functions as a spiritual and formative marker of tribal identity, closely linking the people to the river’s life-giving waters. As the Miami historian Scott Shoemaker has observed, “The river is the narrative of the people.”

Although the dominant group in central and northern Indiana, the Miami were not alone. The land we now call Indiana, land of the Indians, was populated by numerous Native American tribes during the period of European contact. Miami, Wea, Piankashaw, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Shawnee, Winnebago, Wyandot and more co-existed. The land did not belong to the people. Rather, the people belonged to the land. Each nation flourished within a central region surrounded by permeable and often overlapping peripheries. Less essential to a tribe’s sustenance, these peripheries were negotiated through intermarriage and trade that bound the tribes in relationships of reciprocity. In general, neighbors were relatives, and the tribes used kinship terms to refer to them. Warfare, when it occurred, was often ritualized to minimize the loss of life.

The White River was considered peripheral to the Miami homeland, and they invited the Lenni Lenape (the original people) to settle along its banks around 1770. The Lenape had been forced out of their traditional territory, Lenapehoking, in the Delaware valley on the Mid-Atlantic coast by successive waves of Euro-American settlers. The 1737 Walking Purchase sent the Lenape to the upper Ohio valley. The Treaty of Greenville (3 August 1795) opened Ohio to settlement and forced the Lenape to Indiana. Although their time in Indiana would be curtailed by further Euro-American incursion, about 2,000 Lenape established 14 villages on the West Fork of the White River. Buckhongehelas’ Town supported 40 families. Anderson’s Town was home to 15 families. Nine families resided at Munsee town. Water was central to Lenape tribal identity, as Curtis Zunigha, Tribal Operations Manager of the Delaware Tribe, has noted: “A lot of our moves pursuant to treaties and agreements, we always sought out the water first. That’s part of the enduring legacy of the Lenape people. That wherever they did move they began to have an affinity with a relationship with the river.”


June 20, 2014

I’m having lunch at Everett’s Place, a small diner in Winchester. Shops surround the town square. On the lawn in front of City Hall is a decommissioned tank. Civic pride runs high in such places. I had come here looking to find the source of the White River, just as I had come to the White River to find a connection to Indiana.


Anabranch, White River, colored pencil, 5 x 9 inches

As it flows through Indianapolis, the White River is 400 feet wide. Hard to imagine that it begins as a drainage ditch off a sloping field along U.S. Highway 27, gaining water from neighboring fields as it cuts across the rich farmland of the Tipton Till Plain. The trickle becomes something more like a stream after crossing under Randolph County Road 500 South.

As I track the river along these back country roads, the creek looks nearly navigable. Usually, it’s not. But it’s been raining recently, and the water level is up. Near the bridge at Randolph County Road 300 East, the river – more of a stream, really – is fenced off, reminding me that it is private property. The banks are thick with tall grasses, Queen Anne’s lace, and thorny raspberry bushes. Long, gangly killdeer skim the sodden fields. Red-winged blackbirds perch on the stalks of last summer’s corn.

Ignoring the rigid geometry of country routes that we have imposed on the land, the White River flows north and slightly east for its first eight miles before it hits the Union City moraine, a glacial ridge running across the state, where it turns sharply west through Muncie, Anderson, and Noblesville then slopes southward through Indianapolis. A former Pleistocene glacial sluiceway, the White River flows in two forks: the West Fork, which is known simply as the White River, and the


East Fork. Together, the two forks drain nearly one-third of Indiana. More than 70 streams contribute to the West Fork. Four of Indiana’s 10 largest cities are situated within the river’s 11,305 square mile watershed. The river is 362 miles long. The West Fork runs for 312 miles, the East Fork 192 miles. The two forks meet at Petersburg and run another 50 miles before joining the Wabash River.

The first canoe access comes at mile eight, along route 32. The river here is about 25 feet across today, high, and brown, having been fed by Owl Creek.

When I think about it now, from the vantage point of 2022, to stand at the very headwaters on the edge of that farm field in Winchester is to be reminded of what has been lost. I travel back to a time before European settlers came and cut down the forest and the Indigenous inhabitants to get at the rich, fertile soils. History, like the river, flows in one direction. I cannot change the past. But I can acknowledge it, learn from it, and make reparation.


With 14 chiefs and a great man, the Lenape had the largest presence at the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, which opened the Ohio Valley to white settlers while reserving most of Indiana for Native Americans. In ceding the lands of Ohio and establishing the Greenville Line, the tribes sought to protect themselves from further encroachment of settlers into their lands. But it didn’t work out that way. Border conflicts and illegal settlement by squatters and speculators continued. Once established, these illegal communities would call on the federal government to protect them from reprisals by the local tribes, who sought to maintain legitimate control of land long theirs and designated so by treaty. The government would send in irregular militias and federal troops to violently suppress resistance. These troops indiscriminately slaughtered women and children; they burned Indigenous villages and fields.

What Greenville really marked was the beginning of a series of treaties and land cessions designed to drive the Indigenous peoples off their lands by any means necessary. George Washington expressed this sentiment when commanding one of his generals “to lay waste all the settlements around … that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed … [Y]ou will not by any means, listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is affected.” Secretary of War Henry Knox told the commander of Fort Washington: “No other remedy remains, but to extirpate, utterly, if possible, the said Banditti.”


In a letter to William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana territory, President Thomas Jefferson hoped “to see the good and influential individuals among [the Native Americans] run into debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.” And he established the factory system for just this purpose. For the United States to exist, Indian land could not exist.


In the run up to the War of 1812, John Randolph, Congressman from Virginia, recognized the unceasing pressure from illegal settlement and European encroachment that left the tribes with no alternative but armed resistance. “It was our own thirst for territory,” he wrote in 1810, “our own want of moderation that had driven these sons of nature to desperation, of which we felt the effects.” Randolph was rare in acknowledging this chapter in our history.

We have never truly come to terms with the brutal legacy of settler colonialism, a policy of genocide and dispossession pursued by a government eager to take Indigenous land at any cost. It is a legacy that continues in our ongoing treatment of Native Americans to this day. What would it take for us to acknowledge the history of brutality perpetrated on the Indigenous peoples who had long inhabited the land coveted by settlers and speculators?

Between 1777 and 1868, the United States negotiated 368 treaties to acquire and sell Native land. In these treaties, Native Americans ceded ancestral land in exchange for land security, annuity payments, and supplies. Few of the commitments made in perpetuity by the U.S. were honored, though. Annuities were cut short. Tribal land was bartered away in subsequent negotiations. The history of treaties and removal is one of broken promises.

The most far-reaching treaty in Indiana was the Treaty of St. Mary’s (3 October 1818), which opened the middle third of Indiana to white settlement. For relinquishing this land, the Miami and the Wea received smaller land grants, financial compensation, and the promise of annuities. The Lenape were forced to give up their territories in Indiana. Nearly 2,000 members of the tribe living along the White River prepared to uproot themselves and move west again, where they were given land in Missouri and a $4,000 annuity. In 1820, the last 800 Lenape under Chief Anderson started their journey west.

In 1830, Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal act, granting the president sole authority to


extinguish title to any lands held by Native Americans in exchange for lands to the west. Subsequent treaties in 1834, 1838, 1840 effectively displaced the remaining population of Native tribes in Indiana. In 1838, the Potawatomi were forcibly removed from the ancestral homelands in Northern Indiana. 859 members of the tribe were escorted by the U.S. militia to Kansas. 41 of them died along what has become known as the Trail of Death. Between 1838 and 1846, the Miami ceded reservation land in Indiana and removed to Kansas, save for those families and individuals who had been granted land allotments under previous treaties.

Arch near Sugar Creek, watercolor & colored pencil, 5½ x 7 inches


Settler colonialism did more than just remove people from the land. It fundamentally altered the relationship between people and non-human others. The removal of the Miami, the Potawatomi, the Lenape, and other tribes had a drastic impact on the human-environmental relations. The European arrivals saw land as property. Once understood as a shared, sacred space, the land became a discreet commodity to be bought, sold, and transformed.

For the Miami people, the land was a partner. It was a gift from the creator that informed who they were, shaping their history, their cosmology. It was the place they buried their ancestors. It sustained life. It was land held in common. It could not be owned, bought, or sold. The treaties are premised upon the fundamental misunderstanding that land is simply a physical commodity. That an acre in the Great Plains is the equivalent of an acre in the Great Lakes region.

Throughout Indiana the Miami established summer villages along streams and rivers where they planted crops in the fertile soil of floodplains and had access to the flora and fauna of a complex riparian ecosystem. They lit seasonal fires, clearing the undergrowth through prescribed burns, working in concert with the land.

The new arrivals ignored fundamental inter-species relationships and failed to respect the integrity of the ecosystems they entered. With settlement the land was cleared, turned, and tilled. Prior to settlement, 87 percent of Indiana was forested. Today, that figure is only 17 percent.

Wetlands were “reclaimed” to create arable agriculture lands. Streams were channelized. Trees were cleared along the rivers. Without shade, the water temperature increased. The banks, no longer secured by roots, began to erode. Sediment loads increased, covering mussel beds and fish spawning grounds. Animal and agricultural waste from tilled fields entered the waterways, decreasing the quality of aquatic habitats. Biological diversity collapsed as numerous species were extirpated. Mills and slaughterhouses dumped waste material. Sewage from expanding towns made its way into feeder streams and creeks.

Prior to the arrival of white settlers in Indiana, the White River ran clear and clean through mostly hardwood forest. The Miami called it Wapahani, white sands, for the sparkling limestone visible through its clear waters. After just one generation of settlers, the White River was muddy. In 100 years, settlers transformed a landscape that had taken 10,000 years to develop. Gov. Joseph Wright proudly boasted to the General Assembly in 1850: “We are an agricultural people. Our climate, soil, and situation make it so.” He was wrong; we made it so.



September 13, 2021

The sun blazes over the wide prairie at Strawtown-Koteewi Park, located on a bend of the river in Hamilton County. Black cherry, silver maple, Eastern cottonwood hug the riverbank. The prairie is a riot of aster and goldenrod. There’s tick-trefoil and burdock. I make my way around the site where Oliver Phase Native Americans built and settled between 1250 and 1400 BCE. Much later, the Lenape would settle in villages nearby. There are goldfinches, monarch butterflies, and wasps. At the far end of the property, away from the river, I stand beneath a flight of dragonflies. More than 50 twelvespotted skimmers hover, swarm, and float in the warm air. A crow glides overhead. Cottonwood leaves rustle in the distance marking the river’s edge.


We would be wrong to think of the Indigenous Peoples as historic presences. Despite the removals, Native Peoples remained on these lands. The Miami families of Richardville and Godfroy have maintained a continuous presence, while many descendants of those removed have returned to the area. What would it mean to connect with the Indigenous communities living here now? To start, we would need to acknowledge a history of injustice as well as the social and economic structures that perpetuate those injustices. This is difficult. But necessary. Settler-colonial logic limited our understanding of the river. Now, more than ever, we need to learn from those who know the land as something more than just a commodity. Those for whom the land is an essential part of their very being. Even after all these years, Shoemaker attests, “[t]he rivers continue to play an important role in the lives and Indigenous identity of the contemporary Indiana Miami people.”

Chickasaw novelist, essayist, and environmentalist Linda Hogan is right when she says that “Indian people must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us.” But any vision for the future of Indiana’s waterways must include a commitment to the original inhabitants who lived, and who continue to live, within their watersheds. We need to collaborate with Indigenous communities. To partner with Black communities, as well. In turning to Indigenous ways of knowing and being, though, we must be mindful not to repeat the pattern of appropriation and dispossession that characterized settler-native relations.


We might begin by asking ourselves about Indigenous communities living in Indiana now. We cannot go back to the way we were. But neither can we go forward without going through the past. Though it still shimmers, the world has changed. We need new stories. Stories derived from old wisdom for modern times. We need new ceremonies that respect the past. We need balance. We have a long way to go. But every river begins somewhere.


June 30, 2014

This stretch of river near Martinsville is remote with long sight lines. Drowsy, I’m content to drift along with the current, my kayak pivoting like the needle of a compass. I rest the oar across my legs and observe. Honeysuckle and sedges, water hemlock and white-crowned Queen Anne’s lace. Here and there, the pink blooms of American germanders give way to corn fields that back right up to the edge of steeply eroded banks.

There is no one else on the river. I hear the gurgle of water around downed trees. Waterbugs skim the gray-green surface. Bass chases minnows. A shad jumps up and flops on its side across the surface to escape something below. A bald eagle perched on a dead tree eyes the water. A pair of green herons cut across the wide, wide river. Cardinals flit amongst the exposed roots of walnuts, catalpas, and cottonwoods. A kingfisher swoops into a shadowed cove. A red-tailed hawk missing several tail feathers is mobbed by three songbirds. A muskrat digs in the mud along the right bank. A young fawn nibbles grass along the bank, looks up at me and then slowly backs into the dense foliage.

I want to feel part of this thrumming system. But I am too conspicuous in my royal-blue life jacket, oar thumping the sides of this plastic, orange kayak. I am a fish out of water. The creatures here know it. They avoid me. The river corridor sings my intrusion. n

Only now do I realize that signs of civilization are never far: an old car tire on a pebbled shoal, a plastic drainage pipe emerging from the cut bank, beer bottles half-sunk in the mud, a blue, nylon tarp wrapped around a downed tree. The river reclaims it all.

Thick clouds come in. The breeze picks up. An indigo bunting shimmers in the fox grass and shadows of the wooded margin. It feels like rain. n

Thunder off to the west has me worried. Hedge bindweed and orange trumpet vine trail down the bank. An old faux leather recliner sits in the muck at a bend in the river. Its leg-rest extends slightly.


One arm lies off to the side, near burnt logs and cardboard boxes emptied of fireworks. A pair of white sneakers face the chair. I imagine I’m looking at a stage set for a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.

The gray sky has clamped down on the river. A great blue heron soars upstream, glides a few feet over my head. I am incidental. The first drops of rain throw circles on the water, so I steer the kayak to a narrow sliver of bank, shelter under a silver maple, as thunder peals overhead and lightning crashes across the sky. I’m grateful for the lifejacket. It keeps my core warm as the temperature plummets and I start to shiver.

After 30 minutes, the rain starts to ease. I push away from the bank just as a bald eagle glides downstream. Shivering and clumsy, I follow in its wake.


In 1999, Guide Corporation, a metal-plating operation that produced headlights and taillights for General Motors, deliberately dumped 10,000 gallons of wastewater containing HMP-2000, a chemical known to be toxic to aquatic life. The discharged wastewater overwhelmed the water-treatment facilities in Anderson and spread from there into the White River, killing five million fish. There were clouds of brown foam five feet tall in Anderson. The 50-mile stretch between Anderson and Indianapolis became a dead zone. Guide later pleaded guilty and paid $14 million in damages. It took a decade for the river to come back to life.


September 19, 2021

I decide to go back to the river and ask my friend Peter to join me. The day starts out fine, as most days usually do. We leave my house at 6:30 a.m. with the oversized and unwieldy canoe I had borrowed loosely strapped to the roof of my car. We park Peter’s car at Spencer, where we plan to take out later this afternoon, and drive back up to Paragon, where we launch around 9 a.m.

I’d chosen this stretch of the river because my guidebook claimed that “[t]raveling along this section it is easy to imagine what it must have been like for the Indians who used this river for their main transportation route.” I’m not exactly sure this is true. But the area is remote, and it probably looks much like it did before the arrival of European colonists.


After only a few miles, two bald eagles fly upstream. They are low to the water, and from this angle we can see their massive wingspan. One screeches and then flips upside down to claw at the one above it. They tangle briefly, then separate. One veers off into the trees, the other wheels about and heads back down the river. I might have seen this as an augury of sorts. But such signs only reveal themselves in hindsight.

The guidebook was true in at least this, there have been no bridges or other signs of civilization. This late in the season, the river is low. So, we drag the boat over shallows, the water around our ankles. A sentry crow calls from a dead tree, and nine others launch themselves from the beach, where we stop so that I can sketch the river.

After lunch we approach a sharp bend in the river. A wall of dead trees gathers against the piers of an old railroad bridge. The logjam forces the water towards the inside of the curve, speeding the

Waterfall near Salamonie River, watercolor, 7¾ x 15½ inches

current. We aim the canoe at a gap in the treefall between the first and second pier. Wary of the branches that stick out at head level, we fail to notice the large tree beneath the white churn and froth of the river. The canoe lurches briefly then tips, dragged by the current. Bags, oars, bottles of sunscreen, pencils, sketchbooks, ropes, tiedowns tumble downstream, caught by the river’s surge. I kick and kick, try to keep my head above water. There is no bottom. I reach for the boat, but the river slams me into another sunken tree and spins me under. I flail back to the surface, choking. And then it’s over.

The river slows. We find our footing and drag the canoe to shore. I’m shaken. As the adrenaline wears off, I realize how lucky we are. My life-preserver kept me from going too far under. My dry bag floated, as did the backpack with our tie downs, which we need to make it home. We’ll find the food bag, sunscreen, and one of my sketchbooks a few miles downstream. My shoulder begins to throb from my collision with the tree. I pop several Ibuprofen.

Beyond the logjam, the water level is once again low, free to spread from bank to bank. The current is slow, peaceful. At such times, it is easy to imagine the river like a road, its bed as smooth and level as its surface. But it isn’t. Those islands you see are humps in the riverbed. That narrow branch extends from a sunken tree. The river exists in three dimensions as we float along its surface. Beneath this flat plane is an underwater world filled with detritus, tires, entire car frames, appliances, overturned boat hulls half buried in the sand. The river rises and falls, revealing and concealing our shame.

We empty the water from the canoe and float carefully downstream again. I’m in a mild state of shock for about 20 minutes. A river of crows cuts across the sky. There must be 250 of them. A quiet, laconic cawing.


Fifty years since the passage of The Clean Water Act (1972), Indiana has the most polluted streams and rivers of any state. According to a report from Environmental Integrity Project, of the 33,559 miles of our waterways assessed, 24,395 contain excessive amounts of fecal bacteria and other contaminants that render them unsafe for swimming and recreation. It would be all too easy to blame the poor state of our waterways on incidents such as the Guide spill. But that would misdiagnose the problem. The real problem is our way of life.


The White River is in remission. Today, its health is compromised primarily by nonpoint source contamination, pollution that accumulates from many sources. The main contributor to this pollution is agriculture in the form of livestock waste and fertilizer runoff. Some 58 percent of Indiana’s land area is given over to farming. E. coli bacteria, primarily from industrialized concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), is the top contaminant in our waterways. There are 855 licensed CAFOs in Indiana, and nonpoint source pollution from these CAFOs alone contaminated 10,220 miles of rivers and streams. Testing has shown consistently elevated levels of E. coli, heavy metals, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). In 2006, E. coli contamination in the White River was 100 times the level considered safe for swimming.

Although most of this pollution comes from farm runoff, other nonpoint sources such as lawns and roadways are also major contributors to our polluted waterways. Increased development and the expansion of hard surfaces fuel harmful runoff. 300 years ago, the rain would have soaked into the ground, the water table rising two to three days later. But today, nearly 34 percent of the surface area of Marion County is impervious. Rain hits this surface and drains directly to sewers. This means that every rainfall washes lawn fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, pet waste, gasoline, oil, litter, and brake dust from cars into our water supply. An inch of rain in Indianapolis equates to a one-foot rise in the level of the White River.

All that runoff flows into an antiquated sewer system that combines wastewater and storm water in a single pipe. About 60 times each year, rain events lead to combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in which the system gets overwhelmed, discharging both sewer and wastewater directly into the river or its tributaries. As little as a quarter inch of rain can lead to a combined sewer overflow. Some 10,000 stormwater outfalls in Hamilton and Marion counties alone bring untreated contaminants into the river during these events. During CSO events, rather than being directed to processing plants for treatment, your toilet flushes directly into the river.

To address the problem of CSO overflows, Indianapolis launched Dig Indy in 2006. This 20-year project was designed to ensure “safe, healthy, ample water for all communities” by building a 28mile system of tunnels 250 feet beneath the surface. The new system would reduce overflow events from 60 to four per year, diverting 250 million gallons per event into the tunnels, thereby treating an additional five billion gallons of wastewater per year. This represents a huge improvement to water quality. But it is not enough. Climate change, increased rainfall, and more frequent, severe weather events have already made such figures redundant.



In 1920, a young Langston Hughes was on his way to visit his father in Mexico. As his train crossed the Mississippi, the 17-year-old composed what may be his most famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” It ends:

I’ve known rivers.

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

With clarity of vision and historical breadth, Hughes positions the world’s great rivers—the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, the Mississippi—as figures for the African American experience. Still relevant, the poem tells of displacement and homecoming, connecting the painful legacy of slavery to a generational history that provides the foundation for racial community. Conveying all that has come before, the river can carry us home, Hughes asserts.


Look closely at Dig Indy and you find a troubling tale of our relationship to the river. Touted as a triumph of environmentally sensitive engineering, the city did not undertake this project willingly. In 1999, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and neighborhood organizations filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency over the disproportionate effect of combined sewage overflows on minority communities. Investigating the situation as a violation of federal civil rights laws, the EPA filed a lawsuit in the early 2000s.

A 2006 consent decree between the city, the EPA, and the Department of Justice bound the city to address sewage overflows, with a particular commitment in communities that had long been adversely affected by the city’s environmental policies and practices. Dig Indy would produce a 95 percent reduction in overflows. That figure would increase to a 97 percent reduction in Fall Creek and other historically marginalized communities.

It should come as little surprise that segregation, redlining, and other unethical housing practices have shaped how communities of color experience the river. The city opened Douglass Park for African Americans in 1921. Despite continual pressure from local citizens for safer, accessible, unpolluted places to swim, it remained the only pool for Black residents through the late 1950s.


Douglass Park wasn’t convenient or accessible for many residents. Instead, they resorted to swimming in the unsafe and polluted waters of Fall Creek and the White River. So many children died while swimming in these locations, that summer became known as the “drowning season” among Black residents.

Pollution and the discharge of raw effluent disproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods. Take Fall Creek, for example. By 1950, the city had installed 26 combined sewer outlets along Fall Creek. All of them were located below 38th Street, moving waste from more affluent areas to predominantly Black communities.

In case we think that environmental injustice of this sort is a thing of the past, there is perhaps no more potent symbol of environmental racism than the Northside Sewer Diversion Project, undertaken in the mid 1980s. To “protect [the] health and safety” of northside residents who had complained of raw sewer overflows, Mayor William Hudnut III ordered the construction of a pipeline from Broad Ripple Park to 34th and Sutherland, eliminating sewage overflows in Meridian Hills and Broad Ripple.

But this simply shifted the waste from the predominantly white neighborhoods of the far Northside to less-affluent communities of color along Fall Creek. White, wealthy, and politically enfranchised residents would reap the benefits of such a project, while the less-affluent communities of color would bear disproportionate burdens. We cannot untangle environmental policy from social planning. It is not just that we need a more equitable distribution of the environmental benefits and burdens of our social policies. We need different voices at the table.

The ecological crisis is an incontrovertible fact. But it is also a crisis of culture, and of Western culture specifically. In this sense, we can understand the crisis as embedded in the stories we tell, the art we make, the songs we sing. How can we tell new stories that open different ways of knowing the world, of being in the world? Is it possible to paint ecologically? Can we learn from birdsong to sing like a bird? And what would that mean? I only know that to fix the world, we must first fix ourselves.


In the 19th century, John Clare, a poet and farm laborer from the small village of Helpston in England, wrote several extraordinary poems in which he gave voice to elements of the natural world. This is not some idealized song of Nature. Rather, “The Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters”


articulates the woes of a denuded stream, while “The Lament of Swordy Well” delivers the complaint of a parcel of over-quarried land. These are places that Clare knew intimately. He spent his entire life in the region and was a student of its natural history. In these poems, unique in the British tradition for their ecological sensitivity, Clare articulates a deep community with the local topography.

Clare’s critique of exploitative practice is particularly insightful in that his poems distinguish between the “poor moilers,” who though they wielded the ax now suffer like the river, and the landowners, whose insatiable appetite for riches led to a rationalized yet desolate landscape. In these and other poems, Clare denounces the spoilage wrought on the land through enclosure, the process by which common land was privatized and parceled out for individual gain. Enclosure, as Clare witnessed, replaced not only traditional open field agriculture with more intensive methods of farming, but also the communal relationships that had been predicated on the open field system, a social economy based on customary rights and privileges such as grazing, gleaning, and fuel gathering that had joined the nobility and the lower class in a mutually supportive relationship thereby ensuring the health of the community as social body.

Like no poet before and very few after, Clare’s identification with the natural world was visceral, based in close physical encounter and intimate local knowledge. “The Lament of Swordy Well” grounds the poet’s knowledge in the named locale, offering an entirely unfamiliar relationship between the human and non-human elements of place. “Though I’m no man yet any wrong / Some sort of right may seek,” declares this over-exploited plot of land. Indeed, Clare’s poem acknowledges a form of deep history unavailable to the profit-minded landowners. “These things that claim my own as theirs / Were born but yesterday,” the poem attests, voicing an ancient intelligence that presages ecological collapse: “The bees fly round in feeble rings / And find no blossom bye / Then thrum their almost weary wings / Upon the moss and die.” As Clare makes clear in his work, we must be a chorus for the river. If we listen, the river will tell us its story. But to listen requires us to take time. To be patient. Clare lived his life in the small circumference of Northamptonshire. He spent his days wandering its fields, observing, and listening to its non-human inhabitants, working its land. He possessed a natural curiosity that few of us share. But we can learn from his example. The river’s history needs to play a major part in its future. We must see past the problems (mostly our problems) to see its potential. There is a story behind every scar on your body. Clare’s advocacy did little for the parcels of land about which he wrote. But times have changed. And he offers us a way of thinking. The river needs not just friends but a constituency.



You can find a lot of natural beauty along stretches of the river. But we need to look beyond those places to locations that are not so aesthetically pleasing yet might offer us other ways of accessing the river’s story. For the river’s story is braided like its current. Art can create a different kind of value for us. We need to think of the river as more than what we see on the surface. We need to think of what is in the river, what is beneath the river, what is all around the river. Art can help us see something that has always been there although we’ve never noticed it. Art can be a call to a different kind of attention.

At the same time, we must be sure to think about our own practices. We must ensure, for example, that we don’t repeat prior acts of Indigenous erasure. As Scott Shoemaker has detailed, George Winters’ paintings of “lost” Miami peoples during the 1830s and 1840s erase their actual presence from the landscape, allowing the romantic fantasy of loss at no actual cost to European settlers. Winters was peddling a cultural product—an authentic indigeneity—that displaced the actual people he purported to represent. How might painting tell different stories? Stories of the Myaamiaki? Stories of communities of color? It is up to us. How will we choose to tell these stories today?

Art can lead us to the river, but that’s the easy part. Art is not the river itself. Art alone can never be the whole story. Once art brings us to the river, we need to listen. If you listen, the river will tell you its stories. The river tells me things I do not fully understand, but I know that these are things I would never know otherwise.


The only other time I had been to Muncie was when I paddled through a decade ago. At the end of 2021, though, I drove to Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning to see an exhibition of a friend’s drawings. While on campus, I decided to visit the David Owsley Museum of Art. Wandering its maze of galleries, I came upon a small oil painting of a tree in hazy light. The painting felt familiar. The limited color palette and subtle tonal shifts, the elusive, unpeopled space, the soft and suffused light reminded me of George Inness’ Tonalist paintings. This small canvas possessed a similarly numinous quality. And like Inness, who rejected the panoramic sweep favored by the Hudson River School, which made landscape painting a form of national expression, the artist here focused on a more intimate scene in order to explore the correspondence between spiritual and material experience.


The accompanying wall plate informed me that Interlude (1964) was painted by Richard Mayhew. “Drawing on his Afro-Native heritage,” it stated, “Mayhew’s paintings challenge America’s landscape tradition and its history of white colonial expression.” Reading this I was both excited and perplexed. Asked to contribute to this waterways project, I had been rethinking art and my relationship to nature in light of Indigenous history. And here was an artist who seemed to be responding to these very issues. I felt like I had found a way forward. But I was also perplexed; I looked back at Interlude, trying to reconcile the image with this statement. The scene lacked any explicit racial content. In fact, it seemed to lack any sort of narrative whatsoever. There were no figures. No trace of action, event, or history.

How, I asked myself, is this work informed by a history of displacement and genocide? How can a painting that appears little different from the Euro-American landscape tradition demonstrate such a radical awareness? Can a painting communicate what it leaves out? How might an artist help the viewer fill the gaps in a work’s narrative? What I am trying to say is: How does art contribute to our sense of place?

I left the museum understanding that Mayhew’s work was distinctly race-conscious, but as I stood in front of Interlude that afternoon, I found myself wondering how this image challenged America’s landscape tradition, particularly in terms of colonial expansion and the displacement of Indigenous inhabitants.

These questions stayed with me, so I decided to learn more about Mayhew. He was born in 1924 and grew up on Long Island. His father, a house and sign painter, was African American and Shinnecock. His mother was African American and Cherokee-Lumbee. Mayhew claims to have inherited his “sensitivity and spiritual commitment” from his Shinnecock grandmother. He attributes his work in landscape to his ancestry: “The two cultures overlap in terms of the land being important to them.”

It didn’t surprise me to learn that Mayhew considered Innes as something of a mentor. Like Inness, Mayhew is not concerned with specific topographical details but rather what Innes called “the reality of the unseen.” I began to see how Mayhew reworks this in his own spiritual tradition, how the mundane becomes mystical, or rather, reveals a mystical vein that suffuses the everyday world, for those willing to see it. In this context the haziness of Interlude becomes a device. Indistinct forms shimmer, flicker, reverberate; they tremble and dissolve.


In interviews, Mayhew is startlingly direct about the political context of his work: “I’m painting the treaty land that was never honored for Native Americans … No other group has been denied their heritage on the basis of the United States giving them the right to their heritage, or who they are. So that’s part of the paintings that I’m involved with, the whole spiritual sensitivity and concern, which becomes landscape.” I had hoped to find a simple answer to my questions. I wanted red and black. I wanted symbols and signs. Something direct and obvious, even if it was obvious through its absence. But the world rarely works that way. And it is this kind of thinking that has gotten us where we are.

To the casual viewer, Interlude is just another pretty painting. But Mayhew’s work, I eventually realized, demands that we move beyond its surface. We need to become mindful of the “place,” of the artist, of the cultural framework – the before and after of the piece. Interlude demands that we expand our perspective. We need to recognize what we might call the ecological situation of the work of art in order to begin to understand it. Mayhew’s work demands of us an intimacy.

And in so doing, it models a very specific kind of behavior. Interlude performs Mayhew’s spiritual sensitivity. In this context, then, I started to understand how the soft edges and subtle value shifts create a specific optical effect. It takes a time for our eyes to see and process the forms. The lack of figures leaves the scale indeterminate. The atmospheric effect of the background, is it land or is it sky?

The afterimage of colors, you’re seeing something you’re not aware of. All of these formal elements pull you into the painting as you try to resolve it. Mayhew recreates in his viewer his own experience of looking at the natural world, a way of looking informed by his Native American ancestry. “You don’t see it right away. You don’t see it right away. If you have enough time to stand and look at it for a while, then gradually you start to see the subtleties of it.” Interlude invites us to bring the same patience, the same attention to Mayhew’s paintings that he brings to the world. This is the marvel of his work, I think. To translate a radically different experience of consciousness and being in the world.

More than anything, Mayhew’s painting demands time. The kind of time we have been conditioned to hoard. But art asks us to cultivate an entirely different sensibility, those unproductive vacancies the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth called “spots of time.” If Wordsworth’s vision remained yoked to European individualism, Mayhew transforms it through a distinctly racialized cultural lens, drawing on his Native American and Black ancestry to challenge the tradition of landscape painting and the dominant political ideologies it sustained.


We look at a painting, particularly a landscape painting, and expect to see something: a river, a mountain, a valley. But Interlude, I want to suggest, does not so much represent a scene as it makes possible a different kind of encounter. The treaty land that Mayhew paints is both literal and figurative: the physical land that was stolen, but also the Precolonial Indigenous concept of land as sacred space inseparable from one’s being.

With such a sensibility, what might landscape painting achieve? Can an art founded in these principles help evoke this sensibility in others? To me, this seems essential at this point in our calamitous history.

I would like to think that landscape painting can offer us something similar. If the point of this waterways project is to highlight ecological peril and the significance of waterways to our communities, we need it to do more than just represent pretty scenes. We are conditioned to look at the work of art, framed and isolated, as a discrete object. And we appreciate its beauty. We might even yearn to visit such places. But if we simply attend to its surface, the immediate moment of encounter, we will fail to appreciate the land as anything more than scenery.

What if we were to see each painting as one instant in an ongoing unfolding? This would be to enter a different relationship to the land. This would be to adopt a different way of seeing, of knowing, of experience. What if we were to treat the work like a river? To wonder what lies below the surface. Moreover, to consider the river not as a border or an edge, but as the center of a watershed. The river as a gathering place, toward which an entire region pours itself.

I wonder if this might be a step toward indigenizing our thinking. A small step. A hesitant step. An insufficient step, of course. But a step, nonetheless. To take this step would be to recognize our moment as but one in a long history. To acknowledge and account for that history. To imagine forward in time. And to realize that our actions today will be tomorrow.


I am not deeply religious. I do not go to synagogue. My children did not attend Hebrew School. And yet, I try to maintain some observance of our High Holy Days, a time of reflection and anticipation. We celebrate Rosh-Hashanah, the Jewish new year, by eating apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year, by trying a new fruit to express our gratitude and our willingness to embrace the world’s diversity, by baking a round challah to represent the cyclical nature of life, and by blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn, to wake us from slumber to reflection and repentance. Of all these symbolic acts, the one that feels most right to me involves the river.


White River, ink & watercolor, 3½ x 11 inches

It is called Tashlich, from the Hebrew word for cast: tashlich bemetzulot hayam “and cast into the depths of the sea all their sins.” Performed on the first afternoon of Rosh-Hashanah, we empty our pockets of breadcrumbs into a flowing body of water. In sweeping away this stale bread, the river clears a space for forgiveness. It is an act we repeat each year, for we must continually renew our commitment to the world in all its complexity.

Tashlich originated in the 13th century. One explanation of this ritual suggests that the river so manifests the glory of God’s creation that we regret our misdeeds, cast them in the purifying water, and commit ourselves to living a better, more generous life. What I like about this explanation is not simply its promise of another chance, but also its implicit faith in our capacity to change.


I think my impulse was right – to seek the river to know the place. But the way I went about it was wrong. My desire to paddle the length of the river was colonial. It was a way to map unfamiliar territory, to tame the unknown. We have practiced this to great devastation. It has brought us to the edge of an altogether new unknown in which the planet itself trembles. These days, I want a different relationship to the river.


What I am trying to say, I think, is that we can never really unravel the thing itself. It will forever be other. A river does not need to be known. It simply is. And that’s the point. We need to sit with the river. Not so that we discover some deep truth about it. Instead, we need to recognize that the river is never alone. We need to situate the river, the tree, the heron, ourselves, our neighbors within the world of which each one is an indelible part. We need to see relationships rather than objects.

Burdened with worries and anxieties, we embrace Eastern philosophies. We turn to yoga and meditation to still our minds, to connect with the present moment. And this is good practice. There is a cost, though, to living too much in the moment. We fail to recognize the moment in its actual unfolding as extending beyond our presence. We must begin to cultivate a different sense of time, to realize that each moment is but one of a multitude inextricably woven together. And in so doing we must demonstrate what the Romantic poet John Keats called negative capability, the capacity to embrace uncertainty and doubt without any need to reason them away.

Perhaps our understanding can take the shape of the river, ever changing, fed by innumerable streams, drifting through different terrains and communities, shaped by, and shaping the land. Its lazy riffles and surging rapids. Its hidden depths. The play of light and shadow across its surface.


January 1, 2022

It is cold as we break the ice pressed along the river’s edge. We lay out thin shards, my children and I, as the morning sun fills the sky. I bring them here often, to this stretch of river. I want them to know its different moods. Today, we gathered the ice. Carefully, we step out on the rocks where we raise crystalline sculptures that sing in the wind. Sing to the black water that swirls around us. n n n


Until 1980, my brother Tommy and I were living separate lives. He did his thing. I did mine. Then our father became ill with lung cancer.

My dad told me then he wasn’t concerned about dying but worried about Tom. I promised him I’d look after my brother and it’s been that way ever since. Tom and I have been painting together since 1998 and this project is the second like it that I’ve done but the first we’ve done together.

Tommy has told me many times how painting changed his life for the good. And it has, even for both of us. I’ve won hundreds of awards and sold many paintings but nothing has meant more to me than painting with Tom and fulfilling the promise to my dad.

My wife, Judy, has gone above and beyond to help Tommy. To this day, she always includes him in everything we do. Tommy has mentioned to me that he regards Judy and me as “mom and dad.” I’m sure my dad knows that with Judy’s help, I continue to honor that promise I made to him.

But Tommy has my back, too.

While on this waterways project, one day in 2020, in Franklin County, west of Brookville, Tom and I were run off, not by a property owner but by something else. We had decided we wanted to paint at Salt Creek. Tommy headed on and was setting up his easel on a sandbar in the middle of the creek. I was still unloading and preparing to set up on the creek’s bank when I heard Tommy call out to me. He wanted me down on the sand bar. I walked out to him, he said, “Come here. Stand behind me.”

I asked why. “Just get behind me,” he said, being kind of urgent about it. He pointed down the creek. Two huge dogs were barreling toward us. They were bobbing back and forth across the creek as they approached. Our hearts were beating faster as they got closer. Thank God the dogs turned out to be friendly to us, but they were acting crazy and began fighting viscously between themselves. They would not leave our equipment alone. One dog took Tommy’s paper towel roll he uses when he paints, and tore it up. When I finally got my easel set up, I sat down to paint in the chair I carry with me. One of the dogs crawled under my easel, then stuck his head up between my legs to be petted. The other dog did not like that and they got into another fight, knocking over my easel. Tom and I both agreed we could not paint there since the dogs had no intention of leaving.

The Woodson Brothers

In order to get our equipment loaded back up, I had to open six cans of Vienna sausages to feed and distract the dogs. Tom didn’t appreciate me feeding the dogs all of our Vienna sausages. The best part of this experience and story is knowing my brother was trying to protect me. It shows that he takes care of me as much as I take care of him.

Through the years many people know: If they see Tom, I am not far away, and vice versa.


Access to rivers and streams that flowed through private property was a continuous challenge for us. When we asked about a particular area of a river, for example, there were some who were very helpful. In other areas where we wanted to set up and paint, we were told by the owner we were not welcome on his property. Some landowners apparently are not art lovers.

Sometimes, we got lucky.

In October 2021 in Franklin County, on the south side of Brookville, Indiana, Tom and I were part of a group of about 10 artists. We found a beautiful area on Blue Creek. We painted all day there. We had great fellowship with all the other artists. I was pleased with my painting, one of which I included in this project, “Crossing at Blue Creek.” The very next day a fellow artist set up her easel at the same location. The owner of the property showed up and was not at all pleased. He told her to get off his property. Now! I can only figure he must have been out of town the day before.


Many ask how Tom got into painting. It was in 1998 and I was part of another project similar to this one, painting with four other artists. It was called “Painting Indiana Project: Portraits of Indiana’s 92 Counties.” Tom came over to visit and saw some of the paintings I was doing and mentioned that he would like to do a painting, too.

Tom had never used oil paints before. I thought he would give it a try and give up in frustration. I gave him a couple canvas panels, brushes and some oil colors. He went on his way. A couple days later he brought the canvases back with landscapes painted on them. I studied the landscapes without saying anything that would hurt his feelings. These paintings were not good. I gave him more canvases and he headed home to paint some more.

A couple days later, he brought me two canvas panels full of bright colors. They were beautiful and I recognized that Tommy had a talent. I was so pleased and happy for Tom that it made me cry.


At that point, I rented an art studio for Tom, and bought him everything he needed to paint and be an artist. Since then, Tom has painted hundreds and maybe thousands of paintings. He has won many awards, sold paintings and his work is in museums, businesses and collectors’ homes. I’m so proud of Tom and his accomplishments. Anyone who gets to know Tommy loves him.


When Avon Waters asked if Tom and I would be interested in being a part of the waterways project. I asked a few questions then said yes, without first asking Tom. When I told him about it, he was excited to be a part of it, too.

I remembered how stressful and time consuming the 1998 “Painting Indiana Project” was. It, too, had a book and traveling exhibition component. Adding to the stress back then, we also started the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association, IPAPA. I remembered thinking I would never do another project like that again. But Avon assured me that all I needed to do was paint and he would take care of the book and exhibitions.

I knew from experience that it takes a lot of time, worry, disappointment, legal matters, raising money and lots of luck to get a project like this completed. After this waterway project is finished, I’m sure Avon, like I did years ago, will say, “I’ll never do that again.”

Tommy and I still felt some stress throughout this project because expectations were high and we did not want to disappoint. We both love painting. No artist wants to fall short. Tommy and I, as with many other artists, are never quite satisfied with the end product. But the stress that comes with this project, makes us both better painters.

Before beginning the waterway project, when Tom and I headed out to paint along a river or creek, just for ourselves, it was a joy and adventure with high expectations of doing a great painting. Back then, I really never gave it much thought of how important all the waterways were.

I did not realize how many people in Indiana were concerned, and how they work to keep the waterways clean. It is hard to understand why some people would throw trash off a bridge into a river or creek, or even along our country roads, for that matter.

I hope this project will make others aware of the importance of clean rivers, creeks and streams. Indiana is a beautiful state, if you just stop to look.

n n n


Dan Woodson (b. 1945) is an oil painter from Muncie. He has been painting with his brother, Tom, for more than 20 years.

In 1998, Dan created a similar exhibition and book with four other artists, illustrating Indiana’s 92 counties. Those paintings now hang in homes, businesses and libraries.

Dan founded the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA), which currently includes about 300 members. Dan is known nationally among artist circles and national publications, including some abroad.

Dan paints in the tradition of classical Indiana landscape, similar to the Richmond Group and Brown County traditions.

I hope this project will make others aware of the importance of clean rivers, creeks and streams. Indiana is a beautiful state, if you just stop to look.

Cataract Falls, Mill Creek, Owen County, 24 x 24
Tippecanoe River, Fulton County, 24 x 18
Sugar Creek at Turkey Run, Sugar Creek, Parke County, 20 x 24
Wildcat Creek, Carroll County, 20 x 30
The Ohio at Hanover, Ohio River, Jefferson County, 20 x 30
St. Marys River, Fort Wayne, St. Marys River, Allen County, 20 x 24
Laughery Creek, Versailles, Laughery Creek, Ripley County, 12 x 18
East Fork White River, Lawrence County, 22 x 32
Whitewater at the Falls, Whitewater River, Wayne County, 24 x 18
Mississinewa River North of Muncie, Mississinewa River, Delaware County, 24 x 30
Crossing at Blue Creek, Blue Creek, Franklin County, 20 x 24
Muscatatuck River at Vernon, MuscatatuckRiver, Jennings County, 24 x 30
Fall Creek, Indianapolis, Fall Creek, Marion County, 18 x 24
White River East of Muncie, White River, Delaware County, 20 x 24
Kankakee River, North West, Kankakee River, LaPorte County, 20 x 24
Flatrock River, Moscow, Flatrock River, Rush County, 12 x 18
Buck Creek, Yorktown, Buck Creek Delaware County, 16 x 26
Wabash River South of New Harmony, Wabash River, Posey County, 24 x 30
Big Blue River North of New Castle, Big Blue River, Henry County, 20 x 24
Whitewater River South of Brookville, Whitewater River, Franklin County, 20 x 30

Tom Woodson (b. 1961) is a self-taught oil painter from Muncie. He paints in the tradition of classical Indiana landscape, similar to the Richmond Group and Brown County traditions.

Tom has been painting for more than 20 years, often alongside his brother, Dan.

His work – which hangs in museums, businesses, and collectors’ homes –demonstrates the fact that Tom possesses the rare quality of pure talent.

My preference: I love to paint plein air. Dan, he likes to get them started then take it back to the studio. On this project, I’ve been doing that some too. I’m never happy with my paintings, so I keep painting on them until I am satisfied.

White River, Delaware County, 24 x 30
Muscatatuck River, Jennings County, 16 x 20
Tippecanoe River, Fulton County, 22 x 28

Salt Creek, Franklin County, 16 x 20

Jackson Creek, Brown County, 20 x 16

Ohio River, Floyd County, 10 x 20

Big Blue River, Henry County, 16 x 20

St. Marys River, Allen County, 18 x 24


Fall Creek, Marion County, 22 x 28

Wildcat Creek, Carroll County, 18 x 24
Mississinewa River, Delaware County, 18 x 24
Flatrock River, Shelby County, 24 x 36

Fishback Creek, Marion County, 18 x 24

Wabash River, Carroll County, 16 x 20
Whitewater River Bank, Whitewater River, Franklin County, 20 x 24
Salt Creek North, Salt Creek, Franklin County, 24 x 30

Brandywine Creek, Hancock County, 15 x 30

Richland Creek, Monroe County, 14.5 x 18

7 Pillars, Mississinewa River, Miami County, 12 x 24

Walnut Creek, Putnam County, 14 x 18

Curt Stanfield, (b. 1962) from Rosedale, Indiana, paints in oils and has a distinctly unique style that uses thick applications of color and unexpected perspectives. His work is ala prima and tonalistic.

Stanfield retired in 2017, and hadn’t painted in 30 years. While vacationing in Vieques, Puerto Rico in February of 2018, he painted a small 12x12 canvas to donate to a Humane Society Auction at the Siddhia Hutchinson Gallery. It was painted seaside on a borrowed canvas. The resounding reception of that small painting “lit a fuse that has grown into a burning passion inside me to paint full-time and has become the driving force in my retired life,” Stanfield says.

Stanfield is a member of the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA) and has won many of the top Hoosier art awards. In the short time he has been painting full-time, he has received many prestigious invitational memberships and awards, something that takes some artists decades to accomplish. He is routinely accepted into all the major Indiana exhibitions and sells nationally.

Many people say there’s an energy in my work, a freshness. I think it’s because I’m so excited about, finally after all these years, being able to do what I love. And having someone purchase my work has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my whole life.

When I was approached about a project painting the Indiana waterways and learned that both of the Woodson brothers were involved, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The concept was to have five artists paint as many of the Indiana waterways as possible in an 18-month time frame. I have and continue to paint water, so the idea seemed right up my alley. I would learn along the way there’s more to capturing these ribbons of water than meets the eye.

The first couple paintings were from places I already knew; places I had been before and even painted before. Those were the easy ones. I knew what spots offered the best vistas and where to park and set up. It was only when I began to branch out from places familiar that things got more complicated. You see, public access to our waterways is limited. Much of it resides on private lands. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to access them I took another approach. My plan was to fly a drone and capture aerial shots of a few of the waterways, from different vistas, ones most of us never see.


I began on the Wabash River near the Darwin Ferry Crossing. The first flights yielded mediocre reference shots. I needed to capture the curving lines of the waterway. This meant more elevation. Eventually, I was able to record the muddy Wabash as it meandered its way south but this would necessitate more farmland in the composition.

My next stop was the Eel River, just northeast of Logansport. I had never been to the Eel river and upon arriving I was taken aback by its clarity and mossy rock bottom. It looked like a transplant from another state. This was early summer and I was able to capture it snaking along. I eventually spoke with a local resident and was able to get permission to cross private land and do a plein air piece on its edges. It is one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve ever seen in Indiana.

One day I headed south to the White River around the Edwardsport area. What I would do is look on Google maps and try to find oxbows and curves in the waterway, things that would be visually interesting. I packed a lunch and my gear and drove south.


It was a beautiful late summer day and I followed the river as best as the county roads would allow. I ended up going south out of Ilene, Indiana, trying to access a spot I had located on Google. n

Paved road led to gravel road which led to virtually no road and ended in what looked like a private piece of property. I checked my phone but at this point had lost all cell service. I was at the spot I had seen on the map, but it looked as though I had driven into a private little settlement of small cabins built up on stilts. I couldn’t even tell if there was electricity available.

It was way, way off the beaten path.

There were a half dozen or so of these little structures and even what looked like really ancient mobile homes. Of course, all those things start going through your mind. Am I trespassing? Is this safe? Should I just turn around and get out of here? It was then, as I sat there thinking, “I’ve driven over four hours today trying to find this spot and I really don’t want to just turn around,” that I noticed a curtain move from a small plywood covered structure not far from me. Someone was inside even though the entire place looked empty. I grabbed a business card and got out of my truck to introduce myself.

The makeshift wood staircase and the gray, weathered OSB siding seemed ancient and haphazardly constructed. I knocked on an aluminum storm door, not knowing who or even if anyone would greet me. The gentleman who came to the door was the antithesis of what I was expecting.

He lived alone and had done so for more than 20 years on this very spot! He explained to me that the farmer who owned the land let them rent small parcels right on the river. It seemed inconceivable that someone his age could do that in such a remote spot. I never imagined something like this even existing in Indiana.

He went on to explain they watch out for who comes back that far. I told him I was a painter and about the project. His eyes lit up and he gave me permission to drive even further back. I ended up out on a huge sandbar.


I took a drone shot of the little settlement and spent the rest of the day there. It was so pleasant and private. I ended up doing a plein air painting. I understood why he had been there for 20 years. It felt completely apart from society.


What was happening as I drove these waterways, looking for spots to paint, was that I began to find and experience places I never knew existed in Indiana. Take Blackrock Niches outside Independence, Indiana. Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t. That place oozes with history and you can tell it as you see the sandstone/siltstone barrens rising 100 feet. There is nothing else like it on the Wabash for 100 miles in either direction. Again, this spot looked like a transplant from another state or another time. Huge boulders lined the banks and lay out into the Wabash. Deep eddies would swirl creating vortices, as a cobalt blue sky reflected into the muddy Wabash. It was a painting as soon as I saw it. It’s titled “Blackrock Niches.”

Even places I had been before came into a new light. I have painted many times on Sugar Creek in Turkey Run State Park. But I had never been to a boat launch spot just east of the Narrows Bridge. It was here, where on one very cold morning, I met two guys launching beautiful kayaks, decked out in some very impressive fishing gear. It looked like something I had seen in Montana. I noticed a logo on their gear. It read: Achigan? Of course, I asked what it meant. I learned that it’s French for smallmouth bass and these two guys own the business that carries that name. They are true smallmouth aficionados out of Greenwood, Indiana. As we stood there in the morning light and they talked of their love of the Indiana waterways and especially Sugar Creek, I saw another painting. It is titled “Ripples.”

From tubers on the Big Pine to the night lights of Evansville reflecting on the Ohio, our Indiana waterways are a treasure. A treasure we need to protect. I experienced so much beauty, but I also saw too much abuse and waste. We can all do our part. From just picking up that plastic water bottle you see on the bank, to getting involved with a local conservation group or organization focused on our waterways. It is time well spent. n n n

September Shimmer, Wabash River, Vigo County, 16 x 20
Silent Wounds, Tippecanoe River, Pulaski County, 18 x 24

The Settlement, White River, Davies County, 18 x 24

Blackrock Niches, Wabash River, Warren County, 18 x 24

Break Up, Sugar Creek, Parke County, 11 x 14


The Void, Eel River, Cass County, 18 x 24


Trio, Ohio River, Dearborn County, 18 x 24

Chasing Shadows, White River, Davies County, 12 x 24
Sunset Point, Sugar Creek, Parke County, 18 x 24
Pale Shades, Little Raccoon Creek, Parke County, 12 x 16
Night Shimmer, Ohio River, Vanderburgh County, 18 x 24

Still Light, Sugar Mill Creek, Parke County, 16 x 20

August Ripples, Sugar Mill Creek, Parke County, 11 x 14
No Expectations, Big Blue River, Henry County, 18 x 24
Blue Echo, Little Blue River. Crawford County, 12 x 16
Vantage Point, Sugar Creek, Parke County, 18 x 24

Rock Run, Rock Run Creek, Parke County, 11 x 14

Lois, Raccoon Creek, Parke County, 18 x 24
Big Pine Tubers, Big Pine Creek, Warren County, 18 x 24

Halflight, Sugar Creek, Montgomery County, 16 x 20


John Kelty (b. 1964) is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and works exclusively in watercolor. He is a member of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, the American Watercolor Society, the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA) and is the past president and current board member of the Fort Wayne Artists Guild (FWAG), which includes nearly 200 artist members.

He was born and raised in New Haven, Indiana, as one of 13 children. He attended the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne and graduated with a degree in Commercial Art. He worked in the printing industry in many capacities for 20 years.

Kelty’s work is widely exhibited across Indiana and housed not only in collections of homes and businesses, but also part of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s permanent collection. He is an Indiana Hoosier Salon exhibitor and the winner of numerous awards, including a 2021 American Impressionist Society award.

I was bitten by the plein air bug, and have learned that painting on location gives my work a freshness and spontaneity that is missing in the studio. In my work, I strive to create an atmosphere through the inclusion of human elements and the use of a personal calligraphy of brushstrokes. The intended result is a visual narrative that captures a moment in time.

John Kelty

When I embarked on this project, I didn’t realize just how many Indiana waterways there are. They come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of accessibility. They wind through fields, towns and some of the most remote parts of the state.

I discovered that kayakers are a vastly underrated recreational resource, that natural beauty was breathtaking, and hiking through chest high brush and down steep banks, while physically taxing, always rewarded the soul.


The topography of most of the state lends itself to meandering peaceful flat-water vistas. I found beauty every day in my work while on this project and I fell in love with the limestone, pebble and even the mud bottom waterways of the state. I found peace in the moments spent on the banks of the slow-flowing river searching for the perfect spot, only to find there was no bad one. My job was to capture the essence of each location.

The challenge I personally fought was the temptation to draw the same types of things in my landscapes, creating the danger that all of the pieces would begin to look alike. I realized many of the waterways do look much the same and it takes a dedication to discovery to find the right river, at the right time of day, in the right season to create something unique.

I believe there could have been dozens of stunning pieces done on any of the waterways I visited. I knew early on that my job was going to be more of finding the paintings hidden in the landscape than of actually painting them. I tried not to dwell on this but simply do what I do and trust my inner artistic voice.

Most of my work prior to this project are urban scenes, consisting of buildings, people and cars. So what am I doing in a project that almost exclusively lends itself to a more rural landscape?


From the beginning, I knew the other artists were primarily rural landscape painters. I was there to paint the buildings. I found ways to use my strengths, my urban painting experience, and painted the waterways running through cities and towns.

I quickly realized this created another problem. The project is called “Indiana Waterways” and my paintings were rapidly looking like “Indiana Bridges.” I knew I was going to have to step outside my comfort zone. For a rural landscape painter, this would be an easier proposition but it is not the way my clock is wound. I soon realized how much I depend on large geometric shapes to build a composition. I began to really study these landscape settings and to experiment with horizon lines and large natural shapes. It took some time, but I feel like I have held my own, and I am really more comfortable with the classic landscape image now. n

Other than the artistic growth a project like this generates, I have been witness to many of the ills the unused banks our rivers hide. I did not see industrial pollution even in the larger cities, but more of a quite extensive litter problem. I don’t think I ever went to a river without kicking up a glass bottle or aluminum can. I have bought tires several times in my lifetime but never have asked for the old tires back so I could dump them along or into a waterway.

This problem is as large as it is preventable. I saw it firsthand in cities, small towns and rural localities. This is an issue that should be addressed more through personal policing than by legal means. This is our home, and we all need to treat it that way. I was lucky enough also to witness a volunteer-led river cleanup. It was a moving experience, but I realized it is only just the smallest of starts. We all must take up this charge before it is too late. n n n

Black River Reflection, Black River, Posey County, 14 x 11

St. Joseph River, Allen County, 16 x 20

Upper Falls, Mill Creek, Owen County, 11x14
Saturday AM, Elkhart River, Elkhart County, 11x14

Working the Ohio, Ohio River, Vanderburgh County, 16 x 20


Skyline, White River, Marion County, 11 x 14

Williamsport Falls, Fall Creek, Warren County, 30 x 22

Frozen Over, St. Joseph River, Allen County, 16 x 20

The Mighty Ohio, Ohio River, Posey County, 22 x 30
River Cleanup, Little Calumet River, Lake County, 16 x 20
Confluence, St. Joseph, St. Marys, Maumee Rivers, Allen County, 30 x 22

November on the Creek, Cedar Creek, Dekalb County, 16 x 20


Patoka River, Gibson County, 11 x 14

Maumee River, Allen County, 11 x 14
The Walking Bridge, St. Joseph River, Elkhart County, 11x14
Kayaking, Pigeon River, LaGrange County, 20 x 16
Respite, St. Marys River, Allen County, 20 x 16

Lower Falls, Mill Creek, Owen County, 16 x 20


Hidden Away, Yellow River, Marshall County, 11 x 14

Williams Creek, Owen County, 14 x 11

Avon Waters (b. 1954) is a pastel and acrylic artist from Converse, Indiana. He is the past president of Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA), an art organizer, and a project lead. He has shown his work throughout Indiana and other states. His work is in many collections, including some abroad.

Waters recently completed a traveling exhibition with the IPAPA membership and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources – “Historic Indiana en Plein Air” – where he also served as the project lead.

His work borders on representational, but more emotionally energetic and can verge on abstraction.

My art is a response to atmosphere and emotion more than it is to an impression of light. It represents my emotional responses to atmosphere, vibrations of sounds, and harmony of design. I try to paint the air around a thing more than the thing itself. Everything can be in harmony both visually and audibly.

Photo: Kelly LaffertyGerber.

Avon Waters

Abandoned dishwashers, a refrigerator – its door open – stuck on a beautiful cascade falls, office chairs half buried in mud, Styrofoam bait boxes abandoned, soda cups and cans, algae blooms: All these things and more were found strewn somewhere along almost every waterway I visited. At Liston Creek, a car chassis, the V-8 intact, reclaimed painstakingly one oxidizing molecule at a time.

Trash and disregard for a natural resource make easy targets. As an artist, I can, and choose not to include any of this in paintings. In that sense, truth suffers. But the truth is, these were mere distractions in context to the many miles of untainted waterways as a whole.


The discoveries I found outweighed the disappointments, abuse, and neglect. As a child I read the diaries of the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark. On this project, at times, I felt the excitement of my own new discoveries. One example is the private access fisherman and naturalist Brent Cleek gave me to a reserve called Monkey Jack along the Big Blue River in Henry County. We waded up stream, farmland with few trees on each side and I noticed that the river grasses and filter strips gave this stretch a very different character than the Big Blue River north of New Castle, where trees lined both banks and dredging made it almost canal-like.

Brent told me the history of the area: The road is known as Monkey Jack Lane, a lover’s lane whose nickname long ago derived from the discarded latex of amorous hookups the night before. The area is now closed to the public and I waded under the Monkey Jack iron truss bridge, its floor timbers rotted away. Pocked with rust, more holes of light passed through it than metal that remained. I am not sure what enabled the structure to continue spanning the river.

I found it easier to wade up and down the shallower waterways than try to navigate steep banks, briers and brush. I saw more. In my 20-month tour, I realized early on just how few miles of waterways are readily accessible. With city parks, Department of Natural Resource properties, and 440 public access ramps, I initially thought there would be more visibility of the waterways.

Instead, most of the 60,000+ miles of waterways are closed to the public, unless one passes through by canoe or kayak, or wades as I did. Social media connected me with locals and thereby access to places I otherwise wouldn’t have known were there.


My thousands of miles traveled led to new finds. One trip to the Big Pine and Walnut Creeks included a side trip to Williamsport, Indiana, where I found a waterfall. At the time, I didn’t know it was Indiana’s tallest. It was just by luck I saw the falls with water. I was told, during drier months of the year, little or no water runs through Fall Branch Creek feeding the fall.

Fortunately, the IDNR and preservationists set aside some of the most beautiful waterway features that now make up our Indiana parks and reserves. Still, there are plenty of new discoveries, like the Friendship Bridge in Ripley County. A social media post of an arched stone bridge led me there while exploring waterways in the southeast of the state.

The four-arched stone bridge, in particular, caught my attention late one evening. One aspect of my painting routine changed during this project. I liked to sit and imagine an area at different times of the day. This bridge spanned the Raccoon Creek on East Olean Road, near Friendship, Indiana. I sketched and photographed it then sat as the sun set and imagined what it might be like on a moonlit night. As a result, my painting of this bridge became nocturnal.

The Friendship Bridge also fed into the adventure and discovery of the project. I did not know that Ripley County still had 11 stone bridges. This bridge and creek fascinated me. Both are small, but both made huge impressions when I consider how every one of the stones had to be hauled to the site and the arches constructed so the sides of the bridge extended up to become railings. The water of the creek ran clear and sought ways around each piling of the arches. Bridges became early entry points for me during this project, and I learned early on to seek them out. There usually would be pathways down to the water. Bridges became excellent access points where I could wade up and down to photograph and sketch studies to use for paintings later in the studio.


Iron bridges on remote rural roads dot the Eel River west and north of Peru. One of my first wading adventures was at the Denniston Bridge in Miami County. Schools of minnows and shad swam past me during the fall of 2020. I expected to see similar life in rivers and streams later as I waded them, but nothing in comparison existed. Later I learned why.


I met Jerry Sweeten and learned that the aquatic life I saw likely resulted from the restoration work he and others were doing in the Eel River basin. The number of fish visible in comparison to the other waterways I entered wasn’t a small, or negligible difference. I fish. In lakes. The shad and minnows skimming the surface, visible, is common. The life in the Eel matched a slow day on a lake. Further south, I visited as many rivers as I could but discovered them to be broad, spacious expanses, making them similar to the Wabash and Ohio toward the southwest with a few exceptions. The Driftwood and Flatrock rivers converge in the Mill Race Park in Columbus. The piles of logs and tree tops near the junctions of the Flatrock River and the east fork of the White River made very apparent how the Driftwood got its name.

On an all-day trip following the Big Blue south out of Henry County, I jumped over to follow the Whitewater River then jumped back west to pick up the Flatrock in Rush County near Moscow, Indiana. Under the Moscow Covered Bridge, I found access to the Flatrock became easier than all attempts that day. My timing was impeccable; the water in the fall was low and I could walk out into the river bed on huge slabs of half-exposed limestone rock that spanned the Flatrock – revealing its naming rights. The Tippecanoe, Eel, Wabash, Mississinewa Rivers all have limestone, but nothing like the Flatrock. The stones in the other rivers are large, jagged, and pieced together, not the Flatrock. Their huge slabs dwarf the limestone shelves of the other rivers.

My last river adventure for this project became a game of hide and seek. The Lost River snakes its way west through Washington County to the east fork of the White River in Martin County. Twentythree miles of its 87-mile course flow underground. Private property limited access and overgrown underbrush of obscured the sight of it. Painting it was a challenging task.

I started my waterway explorations on the Eel in 2020 and revisited it in October 2021 in Logansport at the confluence of the Eel and Wabash rivers. Large excavation equipment and dump trucks were in the river as huge jackhammers on excavators pounded away to the last two low-head dams of the three remaining. The aquatic life I saw a year before at the Denniston Bridge will now increase unobstructed as the migration route of various species is restored.

I look forward to visiting this river again and again to see what is possible for every waterway.

n n n

Out of the Shallows to the Sun, Flatrock River, Rush County, 11 x 14

Fall River Yellow Blaze, East Fork White River, Jackson/Bartholomew County, 8 x 10
Lime Green Tree Screen, Yellow River, Starke County, 11 x 14
Dusk on the Flatrock, Flatrock River, Shelby County, 20 x 20
Fiery Tree Screen, Kankakee River, Porter County, 16 x 12

Through the Fields, Big Pine Creek, Benton County, 8 x 16

Prairie Grass Tufts, Big Blue River, Henry County, 20 x 20
Prairie Grass Tufts II, Big Blue River, Henry County, 20 x 20
The Plunge, Fall Creek, Warren County, 24 x 12
Stagnant Summer, East Fork White River, Bartholomew County, 20 x 20
Lonesome River Bank, Salamonie River, Jay County, 32 x 32

Inlet Eddy, Wabash River, Wells County, 5.5 x 10


Icy Turns, Whitewater River, Fayette County, 24 x 30


Down the Path, Wabash River, Posey County, 18 x 24

Hog Point Bridge, Tippecanoe River, Tippecanoe County, 28 x 19

Above the Pillars, Mississinewa River, Miami County, 12 x 12


Winter on the Mississinewa, Mississinewa River, Grant County, 8 x 8

Driftwood Pileup, Driftwood River, Bartholomew County, 20 x 20
Moonlight Sonata on Olean Road, Raccoon Creek, Ripley County, 18 x 24

Crack of Light Under the Storm, Eel River, Allen County, 20 x 16



North Manchester: 34, 48, 50-54, 58, 75

African American/Black: 15, 76, 89, 95-96, 99-100

Alla Prima: 16

“A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm”: 73 Andros Island, Bahamas: 63 Artists

Kelty, John: 5, 7, 8, 10-12, 14, 16

Narrative, bio, paintings: 176-198

Stanfield, Curt: 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 16, 152, 153

Narrative, bio, paintings: 152-175

Waters, Avon: 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 27, 28, 67, 107

Narrative, bio, paintings: 200-223

Woodson brothers: Narrative: 104-107

Woodson, Dan: 2, 7-8, 11-12, 14, 16

Bio, paintings: 108-128

Woodson, Tom: 3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 130

Bio, paintings: 130-150

“A Sand County Almanac”: 42 Atrazine: 70


Ball State University: 20, 43, 98

Braun, Ed: 50-53, 68

Briggs, Samantha: 29-30

Butler University: 76-77, 80


Canoe Country Outfitter: 80

Carmichael, Hoagy: 17

Carson, Rachel: 42, 44

Caswell, Nate: 51

Chief Anderson: 86

Clare, John: 96-97

Clean Water Act: 26-27, 48, 93

Clean Water Hub: 29

Cleek, Brent: 201

Combined sewer overflows (CSO): 40, 41, 47, 94

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO): 30, 94

Congress: 25-26

Coolidge, Calvin: 26

COVID: 13-14, 21-22

Creek Critter: 30

Critter counts: 28



Collamer: 39, 48, 55-58, 75

Liberty Mills: 48, 50-54, 58, 75

Logansport: 34, 39, 48, 64-68

Mexico: 48, 53-54, 58, 75

Roush LakE: 66 Stockdale: 34, 39, 48, 54, 58-60, 64, 71, 75

Darwin Ferry Crossing: 153 Dig Indy: 94-95

Ding-Darling National Wildlife Refuge: 63-64 Douglass Park: 95-96 Duffy, Martin: 58


Ecosystems Connections Institute: 32, 33, 64, 66 Eelgrass: 69-70, 75

Environmental Integrity Project: 93 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): 23, 25-27, 29, 31, 95


Gerber, Carson: 7, 11, 12, 15, 23, 24, 25, 200 Goldsmith, Jason: 7, 11, 15, 19, 76, 77 Sweeten, Dr. Jerry: 7, 11, 15, 17, 23, 32, 33, 203 Europeans: 17, 34, 37-39, 61, 69, 82-83, 85-88, 91, 98, 100


First Brush of Spring: 13 Fisher, Brant: 60, 62, 75 Florida: 41, 49, 63

Flying Fisherman: 45 Forests: 37, 38, 41, 47, 6871-72, 80, 85, 88 Fort Washington: 85 Fort Wayne Artists Guild: 176 Fort Wayne Museum of Art: 23, 176 G

Gaddis, Gadabout: 45 Gerber, Carson: See “Essayists” Glochidia: 61 Goldsmith, Jason: See “Essayists” Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement: 25 Guide Corporation: 91, 93


Hartman, Paul: 64, 65 Henry, Donovan: 51, 53, 58, 65, 85 Hudnut, William: 96 Hughes, Langston: 95


Indiana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (IAFS): 48, 50, 51 Indiana counties Allen: 45, 114, 138, 180, 186, 189, 192, 195, 223 Bartholomew: 205, 213, 221 Benton: 209

Brown: 108, 130, 135 Carroll: 112, 140, 144 Cass: 45, 161 Crawford: 170 Davies: 158, 163 Dearborn: 162 Dekalb: 190 Delaware: 2, 118, 122, 125, 131, 141 Elkhart County: 182, 193 Fayette: 216 Floyd: 136 Franklin: 3, 105, 106, 119, 128, 134, 145, 146 Fulton: 42, 110, 133 Gibson: 191 Grant: 220 Hamilton: 89, 94 Hancock: 147 Jay: 214 Jennings: 120, 132 LaGrange: 194 LaPorte: 123 Lawrence: 116 Marion: 94, 121, 139, 143, 184 Marshall: 197 Martin County: 203 Monroe: 148 Montgomery: 175 Owen: 28, 109, 181, 196, 198 Parke: 4, 111, 160, 164-165, 167-168, 171-173 Porter: 208 Posey: 5, 126, 179, 187, 217 Pulaski: 42, 157 Putnam: 150 Randolph: 84 Ripley: 115, 202, 222 Rush: 124, 203, 204 Shelby: 6, 142, 207 Starke: 206 Tippecanoe: 218 Vanderburgh: 166, 183 Vigo: 156 Warren: 27, 159, 174, 185, 212 Washington: 203 Wayne: 117 Wells: 215

Indiana cities/towns Adamsboro: 35 Anderson: 55, 80, 83, 84, 86, 91 Andersonville: 80 Argos: 28 Brookville: 105, 106, 128 Columbia City: 34, 46


Columbus: 203

Converse: 8, 200

Daleville: 80

Denver: 32, 47

Edwardsport: 153

Evansville: 155

Fort Wayne: 10, 19, 23, 29, 35-36, 82, 114, 176

Friendship: 202

Gary: 25

Greenwood: 155 Huntertown: 36, 45 Huntington: 66

Independence: 155

Indianapolis: 28, 36, 54, 77, 84, 91, 94, 121

Kokomo: 42, 43

Logansport: 34-35, 39, 45, 47-49, 60, 64-68, 153, 203

Martinsville: 90

Moscow: 124, 203

Muncie: 2, 10, 20, 78, 84, 98, 108, 118, 122, 130, 237

New Castle: 127, 201

New Harmony: 13, 19, 126

Noblesville: 84

North Manchester: 34, 36, 40, 46, 48, 50-54, 58, 75

Paragon: 91 Petersburg: 85 Roann: 47 Rosedale: 8, 152

South Whitley: 46 Spencer: 78, 91 Vernon: 8, 120 Williamsport: 27, 185, 202 Winchester: 83, 85 Yorktown: 8, 125

Indiana Department of Environmental Manage ment (IDEM): 23, 29, 48, 74, 75

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR): 9, 50-52, 60, 62, 65, 68, 74, 75, 200

Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA): 13-14, 107-108, 152, 176, 200

Indianapolis Public Schools: 28

Indigenous Peoples/Native American(s): 15, 17, 34, 76, 82-83, 85-87, 89-90, 98-99, 100-101

Adena: 80-82

Delaware: 83

Hopewell: 80, 82

Kekionga: 82

Lenape: 83, 85-86, 88-89

Mascouten: 83

Miami: 34, 49, 77, 82-83, 86-89, 98, 149, 202, 219


Piankashaw: 83 Potawatomi: 34, 83, 87-88 Shawnee: 83 Wapahani: 88 Wea: 83, 86 Winnebago: 83 Wyandot: 83

“Interlude”: 99-101 Ironstrack, George: 77 Izaak Walton League: 14, 15, 22-23, 25-27, 29-31

Jackson, Andrew: 86 Jefferson, Thomas: 86


Keats, John: 103 Kelty, John: See “artists” Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: 63 Kickapoo: 83 Kimmerer, Robin Wall: 68 Knox, Henry: 85 Kynard, Boyd: 58, 59, 75


Lafferty-Gerber, Kelly: 12, 24, 200 Leopold, Aldo: 42, 67 Limnology/ limnologist(s): 40-45, 47, 49, 51, 71 Logansport Municipal Utilities (LMU): 64, 65


Manchester College/University: 23, 32, 43-45, 47, 50-52, 55, 63, 70-71, 74

Manning, Ethan: 56 Mayhew, Richard: 99, 100, 101 McCord, S.S.: 38 McCulloch, Hugh: 38, 46 Metzger, Juli (introduction): 20-23 Monkey Jack: 201 Mounds State Park: 80, 81


National Environmental Policy Act: 25 National Fish Passage Program (NFPP): 50, 53, 55, 58, 65, 75

Neville, Susan: 15 Nitrogen: 45


Packerton Moraine: 35, 36 Painting Indiana Project: 106

Pangle, Kevin: 70

Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT): 59, 62, 63 Phosphorus: 40, 41, 45, 69 “Pieta” (Michelangelo): 79 Pleistocene: 84 Polychlorinated Biphenyls: 94, PCBs: 94 Porter, Cole: 17 Purdue University: 43, 44


Randolph, John: 86 Rosh-Hashanah: 101, 102 Rutherford, F. James: 50 S

Sanibel Island, Florida: 63, 64 Save Our Streams: 15, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Schraitle, Kim: 70 Sediment: 45, 46, 48, 51, 52, 66, 69, 71, 74, 88 Shoemaker, Scott: 83, 89, 98 “Silent Spring”: 42 Spacie, Dr. Anne: 44 Stanfield, Curt: See “artists” Sweeney, Jim: 30, 31 Sweeten, Dr. Jerry: See “Essayists” Sweeten, Melinda: 58, 71 T

Tashlich: 102 Taylor, Jay: 40, 62 Teale, Edwin Way: 73 “The Compleat Angler”: 26 “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”: 95 Tipton, General John: 39 Tipton Till Plain: 36, 84 Toth, Greg: 65 Trail of Death: 87 Treaty of Greenville: 83, 85 Treaty of St. Mary’s: 86 Troy Eads Excavating: 51 Turkey Run State Park: 155


United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): 50-51, 53-54, 58-59, 65, 75


Walking Purchase: 83 Ward, Henry: 26 Washington, George: 85 Waters, Avon: See “artists” Waterways: Atlantic Ocean: 36, 37, 82


Big Blue River: 127, 137, 169, 201, 203, 210, 211

Big Pine Creek: 155, 174, 202, 209

Black River: 5, 179

Blue Lake: 47

Brandywine Creek: 147

Bruce Lake: 42-44

Buck Creek: 125

Cedar Creek: 36,190

Cedar Lake: 47

Cuyahoga River: 25

Driftwood River: 203, 221

East Fork: See White River.85, 116, 205, 213

Eel River: 15, 17, 23 ,153, 161, 202, 203

Focus of Dr. Jerry Sweeten essay: 32-75

Elkhart River: 182

Everett Lake: 47

Fall Branch Creek: 202

Fall Creek: 27, 95-96, 121, 139, 185, 212

Flatrock River: 6, 124, 142, 203, 204, 207

Grand Calumet River: 25

Great Lakes: 82, 88

Gulf of Mexico: 30, 36, 41, 45, 48, 49, 69, 82

Kankakee River: 28, 123, 208

Lake Erie: 35, 36, 41, 69, 82

Lake Huron: 35

Laughery Creek: 115

Liston Creek: 201

Little Blue River: 170

Little Calumet River: 188

Little Raccoon Creek: 165

Lukens Lake: 47

Maumee River: 36, 82, 189, 192

Mill Creek: 28, 109, 167, 168, 181, 196

Mississinewa River: 82, 118, 141, 149, 203, 219, 220

Mississippi River: 30, 37, 41, 45, 48, 49, 66, 74, 82, 95

Muscatatuck: 8, 120, 132

Ohio River: 38, 45, 49, 50, 64, 66, 113, 136, 155, 162, 166, 183, 187, 203

Owl Creek: 85

Patoka River: 191

Pigeon River: 194

Raccoon Creek: 165, 173, 202, 222

Richland Creek: 148

Rock Run Creek: 172

Round Lake: 47, 96

Salamonie River: 92, 214

Salt Creek: 3, 105, 134, 146

Sargasso Sea: 49

Shriner Lake: 47

St. Joseph River: 8, 36, 82, 180, 186, 189, 193

St. Marys: 114, 138, 189, 195

Sugar Creek: 4, 87, 111, 155, 160, 164, 171, 175

Tippecanoe River: 110, 133, 157, 203, 218

Wabash River: 24, 35, 36, 38, 39, 45, 49, 66, 82, 85, 126, 144, 153, 155, 156, 159, 203, 215, 217

Walnut Creek: 150, 202

West Fork: See White River.

White River: 2, 8, 15, 77,-78, 80, 82-84, 86, 88, 91, 94, 96, 102, 116, 122, 131, 153, 158, 163, 184, 203, 205, 213

White River, East Fork: 85, 116, 205, 213

White River, West Fork : 80, 81, 83, 84, 85

Whitewater: 117, 128, 145, 203, 216

Wildcat Creek: 112, 140

Williams Creek: 198 Yellow River: 197, 206

Whitney, Dave: 27 Wildlife:

American bald eagle: 47, 90, 91, 92 American bison: 38 American eel: 49-50, 61 Beaver: 38 Beetles: 28 Black bear: 38 Bluegill: 25, 43 Carolina parakeet: 38 Carp: 25 Chipmunk: 73 Damselfly: 79 Deer: 38, 47 Dragonfly: 79, 89 Eastern wild turkey: 47 Elk: 38 Fishers: 38 Frogs: 43, 44

Heron: 78-79, 90-91, 103 Killdeer: 84 Kingfisher: 79, 90 Lynx: 38 Mayflies: 28

Mussel(s): 36, 39, 47, 51-52, 54, 60-63, 66, 70, 75 Clubshell mussel: 47, 61-63, 70 Plain pocketbook mussel: 61 Northern pike: 25 Passenger pigeon: 38 Plover: 78

Porcupine: 38 Red-winged blackbird: 84 River otter: 38, 47

Smallmouth bass: 43, 45, 48, 64, 74, 155 Water strider: 33

Wolves: 38 Woodchuck: 73, 78 Worms: 28 Yellow perch: 25

Winters, George: 98 Wisconsin Glacier: 34, 35, 66 Woodson, Dan: See “artists” Woodson, Judy: 105 Woodson, Tom: See “artists” Wordsworth, William: 100 Y York, Logan: 77 Z Zunigha, Curtis: 83


The Editors

John and Juli Metzger established The JMetzger Group, a boutique content marketing company, specializing in niche publications, public relations, and strategic communications, in 2011. It came after careers in newspapers, magazines and publishing for both of them.

Juli is a writer, with experience leading newsrooms across the country. John is a designer, whose expertise also lies in pre-press and production.

Together, they’ve produced titles for small communities and large corporations. They have a passion for community and social causes. “Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation,” was a chance to raise awareness about a subject they believe in.

As a reporter and editor, Juli has written about the environment, from river clean-ups and community gardens to sustainable agricultural techniques and the state’s love/hate relationship with wind farms.

She once led an investigative series on the fate of 100-year-old trees marked for removal from a public park, which led to the reversal of the city’s plan to eliminate them.

In another investigative series, her team uncovered evidence that drinking water was contaminated with arsenic in a south Louisiana community. A state appeals court sided with residents: “The evidence ... is certainly sufficient to show arsenic in fact has entered the community water system and may be causing serious health problems for the residents.”

For “Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation,” John and Juli worked closely with the state’s best artists and environmental advocates, editing for clarity and consistency and designing with intention.

John is former Production Director for Bird Watchers’ Digest and had previous roles in copy editing and design work at several newspapers across the Midwest and East Coast.

Juli worked for the Gannett Company for more than 20 years and is a former Gannett Editor of the Year. Over the course of her newspaper career, she held newsroom leadership roles at eight newspapers, including four as the top editor. She was publisher/CEO of three others.

She is Associate Lecturer Honorata at the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana. She is a former fellow at the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry and was a fellow at Arizona State University in Entrepreneurial Journalism.

Indiana Waterways: The Art of Conservation

This book is so inspiring I am more aware than ever of the importance of our Indiana waterways. The beautiful artwork along with the information of each of the painting sites makes this book and the paintings a landmark exhibition for future generations to come. – Carol Strock Wasson, PSA, AWA, CPP-M, IAPS-MC

Artist Loriann Signori, IAPS-MC, PSA

The five established Indiana artists have captured segments of fragile waterways in this important book to accompany their touring exhibition. They must be congratulated on their combined efforts to bring conservation issues, along with creativity, to the viewing public.

Stanfield, Waters, Kelty and the Woodson brothers create a new reality. It’s a place where you can linger and contemplate the beauty of the everyday places that we often take for granted. Bravo! – Nancie King Mertz, PSA-MP, CPP-MP, IAPS-MC&EP

This book combines painting and prose to present the current condition and historic past of Indiana waterways. Five Hoosier artists, along with three essayists, embody commitment to environmental conservation in Indiana. Working independently through a global pandemic, painters waded through rivers, streams, and little-known tributaries to capture on canvas evidence of progress and signs of the work that remains. Accompanying essays by two university professors and a journalist examines the decades-long efforts at restoration, history of the state’s conservation work and a first-person narrative that takes the reader meandering through the state on waterways, great and small.

005894 55000>
ISBN 979-8-218-00589-4
Printed in The United States.
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