Saturday, September 29th, 9 am: Our Sugar Creek clean-up make-up day, after being rained— rather, sluiced out, two weeks ago. It’s a chill overcast day, 54 degrees, but a goodly crew is gathering. Twenty intrepid souls have responded on-line, but, no, several more volunteers, around 30, show up plus eight board members as we gather in the parking lot by the Old Coke Plant (now simply the memory of a brick ruin). We are a motley group: some NUCOR folk, Wabash students, a few graybeard professors, and loyal community members, including our amateur canoe race champions from earlier this summer and a young boy, one of their sons, I reckon. We huddle in sweatshirts, light jackets, or hoodies, not quite shivering, awaiting our assignments.
Artist, emeritus professor and long-time river rat, Doug Calisch addresses our group: One large crew will pick up below the lowhead dam and down to the Lafayette Ave. bridge plus the Nature Park: Mike Fons, veteran kayaker, chemist, and board member, will lead that group. Three groups will caravan upstream, while Ed Fain will haul canoes in our new three-tiered canoe trailer, deliver them and pick them up as they arrive downstream. Mark Elrod, canoeist and brew meister, with seven students, will lead the operation from just above the Darlington covered bridge down to the 425 East Bridge. He wears swimming trunks of tropical design, sandals, and a light shirt (perhaps his brew keeps him warm?). Calisch will start at 425 with his crew and wend his way down to the 275 East bridge (aka Carl Valley). Intrepid middle school teacher Paul Utterback will clean the section of creek closest to town with his crew, the stretch between 275 and 175.
Those heading upstream pile into the vehicles. I join canoe wrangler Ed. I will be wielding a pen today rather than a paddle. Ed and I head up 231 in his red pick-up hauling our canoe trailer, recently purchased with a grant from the Tipmont REMC. At Cherry Grove, we hang a right onto 500. A crew is striping the road, “painting a lot gravel in the process,” Ed observes. Corn is drying in the fields. We turn on 425, head to the access near the bridge. With some effort, three canoes are hoisted down and the crew wrangles them down to the creek. On we go to just above the Darlington covered bridge where we drop off four canoes for Mark’s group, then finally to the bridge at 275 east, the section of creek closest to town, where three canoes and a kayak are wrangled down for Paul Utterback’s group. This includes this year’s champion racers who brought their own faded blue canoe. Here we leave off the rig.
By now I suspect you are confused by too many canoes and the mention of bridges, and have quite lost your bearings, as have I. But it is enough to know that the creek is fairly freighted with canoes and sharp eyes scouting for trash. Fortunately, the trip’s logistics are in other hands than mine. We head back briefly to the Old Coke Plant and see that two tents are set up for our lunch. Mike’s team has found three tires and a couch from someone’s lonely camp under the Lafayette Avenue bridge and nine bags of trash. I chat briefly with a couple of Wabash students, Ethan, a political science major and Sopheara Koy, a pre-med bio major. They are both taking an ecology course.
Then back we head to 275 East to rendezvous with Doug’s crew which is wending its way down from 425. It shouldn’t be long until their crew arrive, but we can definitely cool our heels. Ed points me to a sandy bank upstream and there I sit musing awhile where a shale ledge makes a shallow ford across the creek. The creek spins and tumbles, making many sorts of watery music, and surface patterns—little glinting shell-like striations and evanescent domes and troughs—the laws of physics operating on water always result in beauty. Now Doug I see wading downstream. He says his crew will be along shortly. But they are perfectionists, and have loaded their canoes, now garbage scows with all manner of debris, and so it is some time before they appear. They haul their catch ashore and then we load their canoes at the top of the rack—Ed showing himself a nimble engineer, clambering about the rack as if it were a set of monkey bars and he a gymnast. Cindy Woodal has already picked up Mark’s team so we head downstream, and gather up Paul and his crew. More canoes loaded, more trash hauled away. Back at the canoe launch parking lot, we attack the sandwiches and other snacks Cindy and Sue Fain have set out for us. I admire our haul from the creek: a heavy length of pipe, the plastic liner of a truck bed, the metal rim of tractor wheel, a plastic raft, a huge green ice chest, more tires, more bags of trash. I see Paul and ask him how it went. He smiles and exclaims, “It was lovely and we got some trash!”