written by: Julie Borgmann, Executive Director
We have several amazing rivers flowing through east central Indiana: the Whitewater, the Big Blue, the Mississinewa, and the White River. Most of us drive over these rivers daily without giving them much thought. If you’re a little more adventurous, maybe you like to walk alongside a river on a trail or enjoy the tranquility of sitting near the water in a park. But to get onto the river, paddle with its current, and experience the thrill of discovering what’s around each bend is a true escape.
From the road, most of our countryside appears to be farm fields. But the view from the water is a tree-lined corridor with arching sycamores, towering cottonwoods, and shimmering silver maples. The dead ash trees are lined with holes bored by woodpeckers. These can become homes for wood ducks.
Recreational trails are a vital traveling route for wildlife. When I float down the river I see bald eagles, kingfishers, green and blue herons. They stop to eat and then fly ahead. Brightly colored orioles, finches, and woodpeckers dart across the river. Beneath my kayak, I see turtles and fish swim past. On the banks, I see the shells of freshwater mussels discarded by raccoons and muskrats after their feast. Often, a dazzling damselfly will hitch a ride on the bow of my boat.
While these local rivers have been flowing through the land since the glaciers receded, they continue to change. Their natural course twists and curves. Some sections of the river are wide and flat, giving you time to feel the breeze, look for wildlife, and relax. Other sections can be shallow or swift. The water level and flow of the river can change daily depending on rainfall.
You never know what may be around the next river bend, a wild turkey, a fallen tree, or a gravel bar? As the captain of your boat, you get to look downriver and chart your own path. Many times, I think: should I go left or right of the sandbar? Which line will take me through the deepest channel so I don’t get hung up on the rocks? Sometimes I guess correctly and other times I have to get out of the boat and pull it along by hand. It all adds to the adventure!
For hundreds of years, these rivers sustained villages, expanded trading routes, and powered grist mills. I recently paddled along the Mississinewa River near the former town of Granville, IN. Before the railroads were built, it was a bustling trading center and was even promoted to be the county seat of Delaware County. More prosperous than Georgeville, its neighbor upriver, the residents of Georgeville reportedly floated their log homes downriver to settle in Granville. Now that’s a paddling adventure!
Though I’ve been kayaking for years, I still have a list of local river stretches I want to paddle with friends. It takes effort to paddle a river. You need gear, knowledge, companions, and transportation to shuttle you from where you start your trip (if it’s a linear trail). While it takes more preparation than going for a hike or bike ride, I’ve found the experience from taking a path less traveled can create an adventure you don’t soon forget.
Many stretches of river run through private property. Before you paddle, visit the DNR Water Trails website to check if your route is open to the public and for other safety information.
Julie Borgmann is the Executive Director for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her passion is connecting people to nature for conservation and wellbeing.