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Fort to port

Monday June 27, 2011, as copied from the Toledo Blade’s web site

Trip offers opportunity to slow down, learn river

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

W hen you endeavor to paddle a canoe the length of the Maumee River, Fort Wayne to Toledo, it is better to write out the distance the first time — one hundred and thirty miles — and skip the numerical designation, 130 miles.

That is to remind you how far it really is by human measure. Taking the river’s measure numerically makes it seem too short, takes too much for granted. Just a couple hours and change down U.S. 24 by car, right?

So it is that Matt Horvat and I plan to do the distance in four days, starting at dawn Tuesday in Fort Wayne and ending sometime Friday afternoon in downtown Toledo. If all goes as planned, if we are up to it.

That latter thought, of being up to the task, cycles through my mind because I paddled the Maumee end to end 27 years ago with John O’Meara, then northwest Ohio scenic rivers coordinator. We did it in just three days, and it was an endurance challenge. I was then 36 not 63, as now, and you never know till the last stroke at journey’s end whether you can make it all the way.

In a way, doing the river by canoe smacks of a Tom Sawyer-Huckleberry Finn kind of adventure. Lazy summer days on a big, slow, brown river — carefree, devil-may-care, taking life slowly, whatever comes along. Romantic, eh?

That surely is one way, maybe the best way, to envision such a trip. Don’t take things too seriously, which is something we do all too much of these days.

But a lot of that romance melts away after the first few miles and first few hours, about the time the sweat is dripping into your eyes and off the tip of your nose, and the first blisters rise in your palms.

It is a mental game to stay focused in the present moment, a Zen thing, to resist the got-to-get-there-now mentality, to shuck the instant gratification and impatience with which we have become so imbued in modern society.

Matt Horvat officially is the Maumee River coordinator for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, so this trip for him is a natural.

“My reason is to gain an appreciation for the resource I work daily to improve and protect,” he said. “Though I work mainly on the other watersheds in the area, and have the luxury of being able to see most of them, the Maumee is vast, and in my personal experience unexplored. I want a firsthand understanding of it, its origins. I believe that people need an opportunity to directly experience the resource we work to protect. With that, we have a better appreciation and newfound determination to preserve and protect it.”

Accompanying us in support on this summer adventure will be John Jaeger, retired natural resources manager for the Metroparks District of the Toledo Area, and Lou Hebert, a veteran area broadcast journalist. At times they will canoe with us, other times they will hopscotch ahead by car.

Mr. Hebert plans to freelance a video documentary under a “Fort-to-Port” theme, based on our experiences in the next four days. So doing has been a longtime interest of his.

As for Mr. Jaeger: “I’ve never done [the trip] before and I’ve always wanted to do it, I’ve always talked about it. I’ve studied and taught about the river, but now I want to get out there and see it.” The naturalist in the 1980s was a member of the original Maumee River Action Plan Committee, which was formed to help plan and guide pollution cleanup.

He also has another tale to tell, about reliving the life of his great-great grandfather, a 19th-century Black Swamp doctor. More of that another day, on the river.

Last and not least, the Maumee River itself will have a story to tell, just as it told me a tale in 1984. It may be a different story now. The next four days will determine that.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

 

Tuesday June 28, 2011, as copied from Toledo Blade’s web site

Plenty to learn about regionally important river

130-mile journey begins with leg to Antwerp

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS WRITER

Blade outdoors editor Steve Pollick and a small team are canoeing 130 miles of the Maumee River this week from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Toledo and will be reporting daily on the journey.

Paddlers Jaeger, Horvat, and Hebert check out the launch site at Kreager Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the eve of the Fort-to-Port canoe trip. Paddlers Jaeger, Horvat, and Hebert check out the launch site at Kreager Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the eve of the Fort-to-Port canoe trip. THE BLADE/STEVE POLLICK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — By the time you read this report, Matt Horvat and I should be well on our way to Toledo by canoe down the river known some 340 years ago as Miami of the Lake.

We began at dawn Tuesday from Kreager Park here and plan to make 29 miles to Antwerp, Ohio, by tonight — as grandpa used to say, “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” We’ll aim for Defiance, not quite half way to Toledo, Wednesday. But until then, hour by hour, it will be one stroke of the paddle after the next. Just like the old days.

To us, the Miami of the Lake is the Maumee River, an anglicized spelling of the Ottawa word for Miami Indians, miaami. But to say that those of us who reside here “know” the river, by any name, is a stretch. What we do mostly is take it for granted, glimpse at it here and there from scenic vistas along U.S. 24, and then mostly forget about it.

It may not be the Amazon or Nile, but it does not have to be. The Maumee is ours, it is here and now, every day — a state scenic and recreational river that provides drinking water, seasonal sport fishing of national renown, recreational opportunities for powerboats, sailboats, and hand-powered canoes and kayaks and rowing shells. Not to mention interstate and international commerce as a port to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Not to mention some fetching rural scenery.

It is, for a fact, a vast tri-state watershed, the largest on the Great Lakes at some 6,600 square miles. Almost four thousand miles of streams, creeks, and rivers empty into the Maumee; it is the largest watershed of any river flowing into the Great Lakes.

It drains some of the best, richest farmland in the world, once the Great Black Swamp. Because of that agriculture, it also produces more silt — soil runoff from farmland — than all the rest of the rivers on all five Great Lakes, combined. Just ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, charged with dredging the Toledo Ship Channel, if that is not significant.

This river played a key, historic role in the early white settlement of North America, including among many events the pivotal Battle of Fallen Timbers, the final action of the Northwest Indian War, fought 3/4 mile north of the banks of the river near present-day Maumee.

After this decisive victory for General Anthony Wayne, a 12-mile-square tract around Perrysburg and Maumee was ceded to the United States in 1795. Lands north of the river and downstream of Defiance were ceded in 1807, and the rest of the river valley was ceded in 1817. Prior to the development of canals, portages between the rivers were important trade routes and were safeguarded by such military compounds as Fort Loramie, Fort Recovery, and Fort Defiance.

So it is not for nothing that Matt and I want to experience this river. We are paddling through human and natural history, in the present, in anticipation of an uncertain future.

Matt is the Maumee River coordinator for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments. He sees it as part of his professional duty to know this river intimately, the hard way, one stroke at a time.

Our partners and supporters on this endeavor, John Jaeger and Lou Hebert, likewise have their reasons. Jaeger, retired natural resources manager for the Metroparks District of the Toledo Area, has been educationally and professionally close to the river for many years and now wants to know it beginning to end from the water up. Hebert, a veteran broadcast journalist, always has wanted to shoot a video documentary Fort to Port. They will join us here and there by canoe, meet us by chase car.

As for me, I first met the river up close and personal, by canoe, all 130-odd miles, in three days in 1984. I want to take another look, to see what has changed — in the river, in my vision of it — in 27 years. Stay tuned.

Frost-King a friend to travelers, river

It never hurts to seek local advice, and if you are trying to figure out exactly where to begin a Fort-to-Port canoe journey, you might want to contact Abby Frost-King.

Six years ago she founded Save Maumee in Fort Wayne, a river restoration and support group, and she knows the stream locally from the ground up, so to say. Her advice last evening saved us hours of wasted time at a river-closure at a bridge construction site that we would not have known about until too late.

When she moved nearby the river — a flood-control dike was just across the street — she envisioned lazy summer days with her children on a sandy wooded bank. But her first trip to the river was an eye-opener. It was an eyesore.

“I thought it was a dump site. There was so much trash. Nobody was doing anything.”

So Frost-King took the bull by the horns and started Save Maumee. So far her small group — which attracts 300 volunteers for Earth Day and canoeists for a September stream cleanup — has removed 12 tons of trash from the riverbanks and planted 800 pounds of riparian seeds for cover.

It is, as she says, a start. The Web site for the group is savemaumee.org.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

 

Wednesday June 29, 2011 as copied from the Toledo Blade’s web site

SIGHTS & SMELLS

Quality of Maumee improved over years

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Matt Horvat dusts off his hat while on a bankside break during Tuesday's nearly 32-mile paddle down the Maumee River. Matt Horvat dusts off his hat while on a bankside break during Tuesday’s nearly 32-mile paddle down the Maumee River. THE BLADE/STEVE POLLICK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

Blade outdoors editor Steve Pollick and a small team are canoeing 130 miles of the Maumee River this week from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Toledo and will be reporting daily on the journey.

ANTWERP, Ohio — To be blunt about it, the upper Maumee River passes the smell test, and a lot more, 27 years later.

The upper 32 miles of this, the Great Lakes’ biggest river system, between Fort Wayne, Ind., and this Ohio/Indiana border village, are noticeably cleaner and more visually appealing than they were in 1984, when I first canoed the 130-odd miles from the Fort to the Port, Toledo.

Then, the offensive odors of raw sewage were not uncommon along much of this stretch of stream. Yesterday, one sewage outflow between Fort Wayne and New Haven assaulted the nostrils with the scent of raw sewage, as did one source above Antwerp — perhaps a neglected septic tank. But overall, the nose knows and the upper river smells, well, natural.

It pleases the eyes, too. I noticed little river-borne or bankside trash or litter yesterday, unlike conditions in 1984, where dump-sites of appliances and cast-off-furniture, assorted litter, and trash-littered banks at too many turns. Paddling partner Matt Horvat and I saw only three tires, the first one fully 22 miles downstream from the Fort, for example. Other once common pieces of trash and litter were conspicuously absent — in quantity, if not here and there.

Horvat and our paddling companions for part of the way, John Jaeger and Lou Hebert, remarked about the relative absence of litter and trash though they had not before seen this quiet, rural reach of river, which snakes back and forth like old-fashioned ribbon candy in a succession of oxbows.

One huge oxbow, in fact, swings clockwise through more than 270 compass degrees, northwest to southwest, in a course of several miles that only gains perhaps a quarter mile in straight-line distance toward Toledo.

Indeed, the stretch was an eye-opener, not an eyesore, in a trip that should take Matt and I to International Park in downtown Toledo by Friday afternoon. Such a journey, while not Olympian, is not a cakewalk, either. The river current gives you little help; in many stretches the flat water makes paddling progress seem slow as molasses. It is not like “ruddering” your way along a crisp five-mile-per-hour stream with little muscle power needed.

John Jaeger, left, and Lou Hebert finish the final strokes into Antwerp Park Tuesday to complete the first leg of their 130-mile 'Fort-to-Port' canoe trip. John Jaeger, left, and Lou Hebert finish the final strokes into Antwerp Park Tuesday to complete the first leg of their 130-mile ‘Fort-to-Port’ canoe trip. THE BLADE/STEVE POLLICK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

We set off just before 6 a.m. at Kreager Park in Fort Wayne, part of a wonderful, scenic “Rivergreenway” that extends for several miles. The scenic walking and cycling route wasn’t there 27 years ago either. So any cautions about needing to do more aside, we need to take some credit as a society for making some visible, nose-tested gains in nearly 30 years.

Indeed, paddling the upper Maumee is a perfect antidote for those seeking natural solitude from modern urban noise.

What you hear are marvelous sounds like the song of the uncommon Blanchard’s cricket frog [thanks to Jaeger’s discerning ear], or the whistle of an osprey, a magnificent fish-hunting bird of prey, overhead. You will encounter a noisy rookery of great blue herons, where adults “graaaawk” and their offspring squawk. The herons seemed to be everywhere, as were female wood ducks, playing “broken-wing” to lure us away from their families of skittering ducklings, which at times would dive under the surface to “escape.”

Constantly along the way are reminders that the Maumee at times – ice-out and floods — can be irrepressibly mighty. Tall old sycamores, for example, have had their faces chiseled by the rampaging river over the decades, such that their trunks at flood-level have been carved into gnarls and hollows. At times they seem to wear gargoyle-like masks with eyes and screaming mouths. Quite the characters.

As for solitude, take note: We did not see an active, occupied watercraft for a marathoner’s distance — 26.2 miles measured by our on-board GPS. The first were two canoes manned by four young men, camping and fishing their way slowly from Woodburn, Ind., to Defiance, Ohio. Otherwise in the leg, we saw one overturned rowboat, one pontoon boat at dock, and one tethered but unmanned canoe. That’s it.

The only person we saw actually along the riverbank, facing the river and connecting with it, was a lone fishermen way down at Antwerp Park at the end of an 8- 1/2-hour paddle.

But journey’s end yesterday carried one last surprise — a fawn, standing frozen and undecided at bankside at Antwerp Park, as if waiting to greet us.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

Wednesday June 29, 2011 as copied from the Toledo Blade’s web site

Generosity abounds on river

Kindness of many power ‘Fort-to-Port’ journey

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Matt Horvat rests his canoe paddle for a moment just after dawn Wednesay near Antwerp on the Maumee River during the 'Fort-to-Port' trip. Matt Horvat rests his canoe paddle for a moment just after dawn Wednesay near Antwerp on the Maumee River during the ‘Fort-to-Port’ trip. THE BLADE/STEVE POLLICK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

Blade outdoors editor Steve Pollick and a small team are canoeing 130 miles of the Maumee River this week from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Toledo and will be reporting daily on the journey.

DEFIANCE — It was 11 hours and 8 minutes of paddling the upper Maumee River, 37- 1/2 miles from Antwerp to Independence Dam Wednesday, and the longest leg of a four-day Fort-to- Port canoe run was eased by the kindness of friends and strangers.

Start with Ranger Bill Fish, who oversees the village park at Antwerp. He agreed Tuesday to lock up our canoes and gear in the park utility building, a stone’s throw from the river, to ease our logistics needs. Then he arrived at the park at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to unlock it and wish us well.

Next were Norm Rhem, an avid canoeist from Perrysburg, and his paddling buddy John Kusnier — even though they didn’t realize how valuable their generosity would be. They lent special bent-shaft paddles to my partner Matt Horvat, to try on the trip. Matt, in turn, lent me one of them.

After two days and nearly 70 miles of paddling since Fort Wayne, I don’t know how I ever lived without one. These paddles have an offset to the blade, such that the blade is at right angles to the water and greatly increases paddling power and efficiency while reducing effort. A pair of these will top my Christmas wish-list. Our thanks to Norm and John.

Then there is a cook and server, whose name came to me only as Stephanie, from the Village Vagabond, a U.S. 127 restaurant near Cecil, Ohio, not far from the river between Antwerp and Defiance. She interrupted her late-morning breakfast schedule on the grill to sizzle up some handmade deluxe burgers and fries for a fatigued and famished canoe crew.

John Jaeger, who leads the support team on the Fort-to-Port, called mid morning from his cell phone downstream to Matt and I and wondered whether we just might like the all-American fave for a riverside lunch at Cecil Bridge. Are you kidding? Matt and I had been surviving by day on the river on energy bars and mineral water, breakfast and lunch. So what if it set back our pace. This isn’t a race.

Ergonomic paddles -- lent by Norm Rhem and Jon Kusnier -- have been helpful in making the 130-mile trek down the Maumee River this week. Ergonomic paddles — lent by Norm Rhem and Jon Kusnier — have been helpful in making the 130-mile trek down the Maumee River this week. THE BLADE/STEVE POLLICK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

The vision of burgers instantly, unanimously, called a halt in our paddling when we reached the bridge. Goodness, real food. So thanks, Steph, for going out of your way. And thanks to teammate Jaeger — ever resourceful, wonderfully knowledgeable about the Maumee River, its natural history, and hidden treasures [like local eateries]. And also one of the kindest gentlemen you ever will meet.

Finally, there is Cliff Martin, who runs a diesel engine business in Defiance, right across the road from Independence Dam State Park. He spied Lou Hebert, who is shooting video for a documentary on the river, and Jaeger, set up along the high banks upstream from the damn to shoot our late afternoon arrival.

Martin approached the guys and, having seen a support-canoe atop Jaeger’s vehicle, asked if they were with the Fort-to-Port team. He freely volunteered his storage yard across the road to lock up our gear, like Ranger Fish, to help the cause.

You know, it is a special opportunity to spend four days on this scenic, winding river and absorb its solitude and beauty, grueling and sometimes numbing though the long, hot days may be physically. But it is even more special to experience unexpected gestures of kindness, generosity, and cooperation from people who don’t even know you.

Just like all the kind folks who have left voice-mails and sent emails, wishing Matt and I well and Godspeed on our adventure.

The world’s politicians — all of them — could take away and take to heart a serious lesson from these great folks from northwest Ohio.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

 

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