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Published: Tuesday, 6/28/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

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 | Buy This Photo

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.



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