Riverfront Fort Wayne, IPFW team up to plan environmental stewardship center

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Riverfront Fort Wayne’s mission to make Fort Wayne’s waterways an iconic part of living and visiting the area not only rests on its ability to provide recreation and economic development, but also sustainability and environmental protection.

As a part of this effort, plans for an Environmental Stewardship Center are underway through efforts of Environmental Resources Center, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and its collaboration with the city and interested residents.

The stewardship center was a part of the original vision of Riverfront Fort Wayne and is the first major environment-focused development for the riverfront. To gain additional ideas for what the center may involve, an IPFW student distributed surveys to various stakeholders. The location of the stewardship center is yet to be determined, though Guldlin Park is in high consideration because it will have access to the river, said Bruce Kingsbury, director of IPFW’s Environmental Resources Center.

While plans for the stewardship center are still in the works, Riverfront Fort Wayne provided a handful of programs that are environmentally related in 2015 and 2016, including educational panels on the river water quality and bird watching once a month. The parks department hosted a river camp for children eight to 12 years old that focused on the environment and its history and the Tri-State Watershed Alliance also heads a river water cleanup and eradication of invasive species, said Alison Gerardot, manager of programs and events for Riverfront Fort Wayne.

These activities and events are all a precursor to what Riverfront Fort Wayne’s environmental stewardship center is to become. A physical facility with relevant local ecological information and demonstrations is certainly a major consideration for the center.

It also will likely include some of the surrounding grounds and green space for demonstrations while also providing accessibility to nature trails and examples of sustainable and natural landscaping. All of these elements will also likely become a multiple-use base for events, such as receptions and weddings, and act as a complement to some of the harder concrete modifications on the riverfront.

Members of the city and IPFW are also interested in providing educational resources for learning about the local habitats, the proper use of wetlands as a way to keep water clean and displays on wildlife and restoration. A riverfront stewardship center could include a wet lab, where samples of the river could be brought into the facility for study and analyzing.

“The facility itself would mostly be about education … a destination for students, older kids for research or a professional agency’s personnel for studies on the environment,” said Kingsbury.

Riverfront Fort Wayne’s stewardship center could be an example of the possibilities with new technology in sustainable energy. This could include harvesting solar energy to run the lights, heating and cooling, or cleaning collected run-off from the building and parking lot to use for landscape before it enters the river.

For now, all of these ideas are simply up on the drawing board. Members of Riverfront Fort Wayne and those involved in IPFW’s Environmental Resources Center continue to work on the feasibility of these projects, gaining ideas and advice from other similar programs in the Midwest and fundraising.