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Challenges bring new creativity to waterway efforts

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Adapting to a new normal is not easy as our community is challenged by both the coronavirus and long-standing racial injustices driving a new movement. But, even difficult times can illuminate precious parts of our lives and our neighborhood spaces that we may have taken for granted.

Challenges can help solidify our care for each other; and they can help us rethink how our homes are connected to our wider environment and offer opportunities to take positive action. They can also create new opportunities for dialog, understanding and real change.

ROW’s collective has been spending more time connecting to waterway spaces and to the life in motion within and around them. And while our collective was built on inclusion and access for some of our most marginalized neighborhoods near waterways, now our conversations are evolving around ROW’s intentionality of equity in its work with people of color — within Indy and especially within our neighborhoods — to lift up and support diverse voices against systemic racism.

A Deeper Dive

ROW’s waterway committees are getting neighbors out, active and aware of the natural spaces that exist nearby. However, our history teaches us that it was many of these same neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the industrial and sewage pollution that disproportionately impacted our Black and brown community members.

After years of disinvestment, there is currently $2 billion being spent to clean up raw sewage from the White River and its tributaries by 2025. These new investments are helping us imagine Indianapolis residents connected and nourished by their waterways. Now is the time to ensure that ROW’s own community-led efforts reflect our city socially, racially and economically.

All of our neighbors have a right to beautiful spaces, clean parks, safe greenways and trails and more, and a new White River Vision Plan has been intentional about seeking out community input in its development.

Waterway Neighborhoods are Inspiring Action

Each of ROW’s waterway communities are approaching their efforts to connect residents in unique and creative ways. These are just a few of the activities underway or recently completed:

The Central Canal committee is helping fishing enthusiasts in acquiring fishing licenses and teaching about safe fishing practices. They are also working with youth in the community to teach about sustainable gardening, invasive plant removal, native planting, providing swim lessons and helping them learn safe navigation of their waterways. Groundwork Indy’s Green Team and Ground Corps members are improving our waterways, learning skills, earning money and cultivating nourishment for themselves and their neighbors.

The extension of the Tow Path along the Central Canal is also offering new connectivity and opportunities for brownfields (historically contaminated properties) to be redeveloped into artist spaces and community assets.

Residents along Fall Creek in the Crosstown neighborhood are envisioning improvements such as trails and a playground at the Reverend Charles William Park. Earlier this year, residents also secured $750,000 from the National Parks Service. Additionally, the Fall Creek Trail is getting improvements and being extended.

Wendell Phillips School 63 along White River worked with ROW’s waterway committee, Department of Natural Resources, Groundwork Indy, US Fish and Wildlife and other partners to initiate Give Adventure to install 750 native plants and train students, teachers and conservation experts. This was just one of 10 activities to engage the school and community in cleaning up and caring for the waterway nearby.

How You Can Connect

Take inspiration from ROW’s waterway neighbors and partners. Even as other parts of life may feel constrained and stressful, find nourishment in your own yard, or step out into Indy’s urban natural spaces to soak in the life and beauty of your surroundings. Here are a few ways:

Indiana Native Plant Society’s new book “Wake Up, Woods” guides you on an exploration of beautiful native wildflowers through video readings at ourwaterways.org/wakeupwoods.

ROW’s new coloring pages created by Tyeesha Bradley can be downloaded and printed out at https://ourwaterways.org/kidsactivities/.

Identify and remove harmful invasive species and install native species in its place using the Residential Invasive Removal Guide at https://ourwaterways.org/elements/invasives/.

Drop ROW an email with your mailing address at info@ourwaterways.org to receive a free packet of native flower seeds to plant in your own yard (50 packets available).

Get involved in these community-driven waterway efforts or bring your expertise to our waterway communities at info@ourwaterways.org.

Stay connected to ROW @ourwaterways on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Julie L Rhodes is collective impact director at Reconnecting to Our Waterways.

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