Writer / Elisabeth Giffin

As far as scenic features go, Indianapolis’ White River stands alone. Geographically, that is. “It’s our defining natural feature,” said Kevin Hardie. “We have no mountains, beaches, or bays. But we do have a waterway that is extremely varied in character.”

And Hardie, Executive Director of the Friends of the White River, makes sure this colorful river doesn’t feel left out.

The Friends of the White River is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1985 to help “preserve and protect” Indianapolis’ main waterway. Comprised of members and volunteers from all over the city, the Friends believe they “represent those who use the river for recreational purposes, those who live near its banks, and all citizens interested in the preservation of the river as a natural resource.”

For Hoosiers residing in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, the White River is “our” river, but as the largest watershed in Indiana—spanning from Winchester to the southwestern edge of the state where it connects with the Wabash—the White River cannot be claimed solely by Indy locals.

To local citizen Dan Valleskey, keeping the White River clean seems no different than homeowners’ responsibility to keep their yards clean and take out their trash. Valleskey, who serves as current president of The Friends of the White River, notes that some lives depend on rivers for their source of drinking water and that those people deserve a healthy river when it gets to them.

Valleskey and the Friends also believe that education is the “single most important thing we can do” as far as caring for the White River. That is why Friends of the White River runs a program for youth, River School, which focuses on introducing and educating young people on “the joys and challenges” of the river. According to Hardie, it all comes down to three words: protect, preserve, and enhance.

To befriend the White River, Hardie suggests starting by “taking a moment to discover a portion of the river near you.”

For Broad Ripple residents, opportunities abound for fun, river-based activities, from booking an excursion on a historic paddle wheel boat at Broad Ripple Boat Company, or buying tickets for the upcoming White River Arts and Music Festival (WARMfest) in Broad Ripple Park, which includes paddle boat rides for up-close river experiences.

Valleskey also encourages residents to join the Friends, volunteer for a cleanup, or come out for a Friends event on the river. “Give me ten people who have never been on the river,” he said. “Let me show it to them. I bet I’ll have six new river enthusiasts.”

To find out more, visit the Friends of the White River at the White River Yacht Club’s Open House on August 16, or visit their website at friendsofwhiteriver.org. Currently donations are being matched through September by popular musician and environmentalist Jack Johnson and his foundation, All At Once. To make donations, visit allatonce.org.

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