Wabash River Defenders return to Clean Out the Banks

Michael Beauchamp (left), founder of the Wabash River Defenders, discusses various access points used in past years for the Clean Out the Banks events at the Wabash River Defenders team leader meeting on May 14. The organization has again partnered with the City of Wabash and local property owners to establish access points for the upcoming Wabash River cleanup event. Photo by Emma Rausch

By Emma Rausch

The Wabash River Defenders are finalizing the team assignments up for their fourth Clean Out the Banks event on July 25, but are still welcoming more volunteers to join the cause.

On May 14, the organization’s committee met with nearly a dozen team leaders to update the volunteers on the cause’s recent developments, coordinate location assignments, and organize tool responsibilities for each team.

Ideally, the organization would like to have 19 teams for the upcoming cleanup, one team per mile of the 19-miles the river runs through Wabash County, said founder Michael Beauchamp.

“I think the more teams, the more team leaders, the more people, the better our chance of getting our trash out,” Beauchamp said. “You can never have too many teams.”

Since the organization’s founding in 2011, the Wabash River Defenders have cleared over 62 tons of debris from the river. In 2014, the Defenders determined that there was not enough debris in the river to organize a cleanup event and, instead, celebrated their efforts and thanked the volunteers with the 62 Ton RiverFest.

The committee determined earlier in 2015 that there is enough debris in the Wabash River to assemble another Clean Out the Banks event. The Defenders have again partnered with the City of Wabash and local property owners to establish access points for volunteer defenders to enter and clean areas of the river, Beauchamp said.

This year, in addition to clearing trash out of the Wabash River, the organization is also pursuing an effort to prevent future water pollution and preserve water quality, according to Beauchamp.

“There are active watershed initiatives on up river from us, starting in Huntington County,” Beauchamp said. “So I wanted you to know that we’re not just doing a clean out, that’s what we’re here about, but we’re also pursuing an in-depth effort on water quality.”

In order to achieve this, the committee has also applied for various grants to assist with the effort’s costs. In February, the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) awarded the Wabash River Defenders with a $5,000 grant. The funds have gone toward formalizing the organization, collaborating with other water-cleaning initiatives for ideas, social media, marketing, and strategic planning, according to a NEEF press release.

The Defenders have also applied for a Clean Water Act Section 319 grant and Lake and River Enhancement (LARE) program grant, according to Steve Johnson, committee member and Wabash County United Fund, Inc. executive director.

In addition to funding, the organization has also been working with the county’s farming community to combat water contamination, Beauchamp said.

“As we’re working with all this agricultural run-off, we’re becoming more involved with our farming community, with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), with the Wabash County Soil (and Water) Conservation,” he continued. “We’re never going to force a farmer to do anything he doesn’t want to do. That is not our goal. Our goal is not to be a policeman.

“Our goal is to be an advocate for river quality.”

The Wabash River Defenders is still accepting volunteers for the Clean Out the Banks event. Volunteers must be older than 13-years-old and all participants in high school or below must be with a parent.

If interested in volunteering for the Clean Out the Banks event, email for more information.

Posted on 2015 May 26