by Emily Armentrout
On Friday, May 23, Jen Rankin, Executive Director of the Wabash County Solid Waste Management District, along with other volunteers from the Wabash community joined forces with W.C. Mills Elementary fourth grade students to clean up the portion of Charley Creek that runs through the Wabash City Park.
“We’ve been putting this together for some time. We’ve had a lot of younger children interested in the clean up, but because of the dangers involved, we had to limit the age to about 13. With that, we started thinking that we needed to do something. Everything you teach them, if you make it fun and interesting, they absorb it. We put our minds together and decided to do a Junior Defenders program,” Rankin told The Paper.
After meeting with W.C. Mills principal, Mike Mattern, who loved the idea, Rankin and her crew decided to choose the fourth grade students.
“Fourth graders still get excited about stuff,” explained Rankin.
The crew went into W.C. Mills in the morning, to each classroom, and told the students the story of “Freddy Fish.”
Freddy is a fish that lives in a clean, shaded area of a river. After getting bored, he travels downstream and finds all different kinds of pollution. This story taught the students about environmental issues like erosion and the different types of toxins from runoff. The crew taught them that anything we put in the water has an effect on the rest of the water. The students also thought it was cool to learn that the Wabash River is a tributary to the Gulf of Mexico. The Wabash River runs into the Ohio River, which runs into the Mississippi River, which empties out into the Gulf of Mexico.
After the classroom presentations, the students were bused to the city park, where they saw another presentation. They were challenged to find as many pollutants as they could and identify them by using the knowledge they gained during each presentation.
“In about 30 minutes, those kids picked up about 300 pounds of trash. What is so amazing about that is that this part of the creek is one of the cleanest areas of the city because it’s in the park and the Parks Department is cleaning all the time,” explained Rankin.
After the students cleaned up their area of the creek, the students made a pledge to become a Wabash River Junior Defender.
“I (state your name), as a Wabash River Junior Defender, promise to do my best to protect my local tributary. I understand my decisions effect the environment and the wildlife, which live in it. I will do my best to make good decisions because I am a Wabash River Junior Defender.”
Rankin would like to thank not only the W.C. Mills students and staff but also the volunteers who helped make this program possible. Those volunteers include Cindy Stanley, Michael Beauchamp, Angie Beauchamp, Nathan Thomas, Skip Daughtery, Jack Delauter, Brent Herman, Claire Osecki, Tyler Rankin, Joey Rankin Katie Middleton, Samantha Ward, Dean Gaddy, and Steve Johnson.
The Wabash River Junior Defenders is a program that Rankin hopes to continue every year around the end of the school year, and would love to open it up to not only other schools, fourth grade or higher, but also to any age appropriate groups in the community looking to serve their community in a meaningful way.
“It was such an impressive day. We were so amazed by their excitement and enthusiasm. They went in nice and dry and came out soaking wet. They had fun,” Rankin added.
Normally, the last Saturday in July is the river clean up date. Due to the great efforts of the River Defenders in the area, there isn’t a great need to warrant 300 volunteers, so on Saturday, July 26, there is going to be a celebration. They will be serving local caught fish and creek bank taters. There will be live music and a river float. The float begins in Lagro. You can take boats, canoes, rafts, etc. They will be floating from Lagro to Paradise Spring Park, where the celebration will begin.
Check back with The Paper for further details on the River Defender celebration.