Paddles Aweigh to fund school tours of rivers

Project chair Irene Walters holds two of the dozens of paddles brought to her home for the Paddles Aweigh judging. In her right hand, she holds a paddle submitted by Ellen Wallen. In her left hand is a paddle submitted by Julia Guerin. (Garth Snow)

By Garth Snow

FORT WAYNE — Friends of the Rivers’ Paddles Aweigh initiative will culminate in a Sept. 29 celebration of Fort Wayne’s rivers. Artists are decorating and submitting paddles to be judged that day. Sponsors are still being accepted to support the project.

Irene Walters, project chair, says the ultimate goal lies beyond the creative fundraiser to take schoolchildren on river outings. That goal lies yet beyond the science and history that students will learn while glimpsing the the St. Joseph, St. Marys and Maumee rivers. The goal, she said, is to help children to grow into people who will appreciate and safeguard Fort Wayne’s rivers and all things having to do with nature. She wants those tours to be meaningful outings that will motivate the youth to become stewards.

About 24 school groups ventured onto those rivers last year aboard the Sweet Breeze, an 1840s-style canal boat. Paddles Aweigh is intended to welcome even more groups this next school year. Walters said the tours are not limited to just one school district or just to the immediate Fort Wayne area.

Friends of the Rivers, a grass-roots group, formed three years ago to raise awareness and appreciation of the rivers. The group raised money for the Sweet Breeze, whose passengers learn about local history along the waterways. The next step was a curriculum for history tours for third- and fourth-graders. Then came the program for grades 5-11 to study science, environment and ecology.

The teachers who participated last year loved it, said Walters, a Friends of the Rivers board member and former president. “Most had never been on the river, and how cool was that!” she said. “We needed a strategy for offering scholarships to create stewards. We needed to talk about awareness and consciousness and brainstorm about how to raise money. One creative person said why not do something with canoe paddles.”

Teachers interested in booking outings can get details and contact Friends of the Rivers via the website at

Artists were invited to create designs and secure sponsors at $1,000 each. “The goal was to get 100 and we have now 108 sponsors and 150 paddles,” she said. That enrollment has closed, artists were to bring their paddles to Walters’ home by July 31.

Paddles Aweigh will continue seeking sponsors for those paddles not yet claimed. Interested businesses and organizations may contact Walters by email at

Friends of the Rivers has reserved the pavilion at Promenade Park for its celebration of World Rivers Day from 2-5 p.m. Sept. 29, the last Sunday in September. Music is planned and food will be available, along with other activities to engage and involve the public. Paddles Aweigh will be the centerpiece of the local celebration, as paddles and artists are revealed. “We will celebrate the uniqueness and talents of our artists,” she said. It is an inclusive vision, with invitations extended to several local organizations. Paddles will be judged that day, with awards in several categories. For three months after the event, paddles will be on display at the Grand Hall of the Allen County Public Library and several other public places, Walters said.

Read more about Paddles Aweigh at

Friends of the Rivers also has another event at hand. Sweet Breeze Fest will be Saturday, Aug. 24, with 45-minute rides available from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Get tickets or details at