Conner Prairie takes a big step forward in cleaning up the White River

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Posted at 10:11 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 22:11:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Over last few decades, efforts have been made to remove trash and pollution from the White River, and now Conner Prairie in Fishers is getting involved.

"Many people may not know we have over 3.3 miles of the White River that run right through our property, through the heart of it. That totals out to almost six miles of shoreline that we need to be responsible for," Andrew Bradford, Vice President & Chief Advancement Officer at Conner Prairie said.

With paddles and trash bags in their hands, community members and Conner Prairie employees recently took off into the White River to help collect trash from the river.

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Community members took part in Conner Prairie's White River Clean Up event.

"We've taken some small steps," Bradford said. "This is one of our first big public steps. Our partnerships with the White River Alliance, the City of Carmel and Fishers is only going to enhance the opportunities we have from a recreational perspective for people to get on the river, but also from the perspective of the science and understanding about how it is that we need to start cleaning this up."

The small steps Bradford mentioned include shoreline stabilization work.

"That allowed us to clean up the drinking water for over 500,000 Hamilton County residents, because not many people know that this White River is what comes out of your faucets in your home and so we have to start taking care of it.," Bradford said.

As part of the ongoing effort, this summer, Conner Prarie brought in Grace College and the Lilly School for Lakes and Streams student, Ryanne Rinaldi, for a first of its kind internship called One River Prairieship.

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"I think it's secured my want to go into the field of algae definitely," Conner Prairie Intern Ryanne Rinaldi said about her summer internship.

"This summer, I've been doing some water quality sampling and along with that I'm trying to draw some conclusions about the White River itself," Rinaldi said.

Rinaldi was trained by The White River Alliance and travels to test sites sampling the water to understand flow, speed, quality and pollution.

"The water is quite polluted, but there are a lot of things that can contribute to that," Rinaldi said. "This is far down stream in relationship to Indiana so northern Indiana will go through a lot of farm fields and agricultural areas so any runoff from that like nitrogen and phosphorus are the things that can really affect water quality. Even in Indianapolis, there might be some industrial runoff because of how much cement and roads are here that could really increase runoff."

Conner Prairie plans to use the data Rinaldi is gathering towards their efforts of cleaning up the river.

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The White River at Conner Prairie

"She's been out here day in and day out doing water sampling, understanding what it is that we're doing to the water, and how it's affecting some sister sites like Newfields for example down in Marion County," Bradford said.

The One River Prairieship is funded by a grant from Bank of America as part of their strategy to advance economic opportunity and workforce development with local nonprofits.

"It's our belief that you can't have healthy communities without healthy businesses and that investment that we make into our nonprofits through direct actions by us or investments we make through our nonprofit it's really an investment in us," Andy Crask, Bank of America Market President said. "It's an investment where we live and where we work. We want to continue to have a vibrant community in a place where opportunities are available for everybody and this is one small way that we have an opportunity to have an impact on that."

While Rinaldi is helping efforts at Conner Prairie, The White River Alliance and the City of Fishers are encouraging all Hoosiers to take steps of their own.

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Trash collected from Conner Prairie's White River Clean Up event

"Decreasing their use of lawn fertilizer, making sure they pick up their pet poo, and conserving water," Haley Cowart, The White River Alliance Education & Outreach Coordinator said.

Cowart notes that the White River is connected to Hoosier's lives in many different ways including food and agriculture and they want to change the stereotype surrounding the river.

"I think a lot of people stray away from it and they think it's dirty and inaccessible and we want to make it better for recreation, better for people to fish in," Cowart said.

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White River Clean Up

"There's a variety of pollution types, there's chemicals and E. coli and bacteria coming in but there's also general trash and tires and things," Jason Armour, Stormwater Engineer for the City of Fishers said. "It's a huge resource whether you want to recreate or not, it really comes down to the fact that we as humans water is probably the most important thing for us."

The White River Alliance explained that we should expect to see big changes in and around the White River in the near future. A plan, called the White River Vision Plan, is complete and Cowart said work is being done to secure grants to begin more improvements.

There are several ways through the alliance to get involved including Clear Choices Clean Water program. Click here to learn more.