River front development in Fort Wayne, for the most part, is a phantom dream, and we should accept this fact. Our City – and anyone who knows me understands that I love this City and where I live – sits at the end of the Great Black Swamp – a swamp that originally stretched from Sandusky, Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The swamp’s dimensions were about 120 miles by 40 miles – an area as large as the Everglades. The Great Black Swamp was the creation of retreating Wisconsinan glaciers some 20,000 years ago, leaving ridges called moraines which acted as a catch basin for water storage. At the bottom of the catch basin lay a layer of clay.
Water, often up to the belly of a horse, stood on the surface until it evaporated in the hot summer months. When it rained, or thawed in the winter, it was water and muck. Much of the swamp was covered with an almost impenetrable forest of giant oak, sycamore, hickory, walnut, ash, elm, maple and cottonwood trees, except in a few prairie areas where limestone just under the surface would not support timber growth.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The swamp was a veritable hotbed of disease and maladies born by insects. The soils of the area were – and still are – heavy clay and retain water. This swamp, drained long ago by efforts of human ingenuity, hard work, and determination, has had a dramatic impact on our City and its three rivers. Our rivers are unique.
Most rivers in Indiana flow southwest to eventually join the Ohio River, but our three rivers take a different course. The St. Marys River arises near St. Marys, Ohio, and flows northwest until it enters Fort Wayne. By the time it flows by my home in West Central it has changed direction and is beginning to turn northeast to join the St. Joseph and the Maumee at the confluence. The St. Joe River originates in Michigan and journeys southwest to join its two cohorts – again at the confluence in the heart of Fort Wayne. The St. Joe and the St. Marys lose their identity at the confluence and merge into the larger Maumee River. All three rivers then flow northeast to finally empty into Lake Erie.
The combination of deeply deposited clay soils, the low-lying nature of the land upon which Fort Wayne was built, and the joining of three rivers virtually covering all corners of Fort Wayne, make development of our river banks a difficult if not impossible task. The best option for our levee, berm, and flood wall hidden river banks is to clean them up as much as possible and to improve small areas amenable to such improvement.
The Great Black Swamp is long gone, but its legacy lives on in the underlying history of our soils and river environment. As human beings, the tendency is to believe that we can control all things, but with our rivers, the best option is to understand them and to work to make them more beautiful by grooming them to highlight their natural state – unhidden by continued construction of barriers.
Photo Credit: blackswamp.org