By Joseph S. Pete
Original article here.
The Calumet Region gets its name from the Calumet River system, but the once heavily polluted rivers are often an afterthought in Northwest Indiana.
The Northwest Indiana Paddling Association aims to change that.
The group aspires to make more people aware and appreciative of the West Branch of the Little Calumet River, a “hidden gem of a waterway in our own backyards.”
At the sixth annual Little Cal River Fest on Saturday, people will get the chance to kayak and canoe down the river, and see herons, egrets, cormorants, kingfishers and bald eagles that are nesting with their eaglets in Black Oak.
Local photographer Michael Lewandowski, owner of Lew Shots Photography who often photographs the eagles, said the Little Cal River Fest is “a great event giving people a chance to see these beautiful birds also the trash that is dumped around the nesting area.”
Registration starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at the new Little Cal access point at the Indiana Welcome Center, 7770 Corinne Drive in Hammond. Canoes and kayaks can be rented by those who reserve them ahead of time. The event is free, but a $5 donation is encouraged.
Hundreds are expected, and the first 100 to show up will get a free T-shirt.
Kayakers and canoe-ers will paddle six miles to Grant Street in Gary, and get a chance to see the bald eagle nest by Cark Street in the Black Oak neighborhood.
“Conservation” Mike Ecterling, who hosts a radio show Sunday morning at WVLP 103.1 in Valparaiso, founded the event to highlight a river that’s often overlooked by people who might travel downstate to canoe at Turkey Run State Park.
“It’s a beautiful, amazing river that has 40-some threatened and endangered species and is full of fish of all kinds,” he said. “It’s a bucket list place. That isn’t how people see it because it used to have stormwater drains and combined sewers discharging in there. But when we stopped dumping stuff in there, it cleaned itself up.”
The journey down the Little Cal on Saturday will take about two and a half to three hours.
“We want people to stop and smell the roses,” Ecterling said. “We might bring in birding experts in the future. You can’t go too quick because you’ll miss things. I’ve seen deer crossing the river, and every kind of bird out there. The Little Cal is a wildlife corridor. On a sunny day, you’re going to see lots of turtles, fish and birds of every kind.”
The river once had as few as 10 species of fish when it was still being polluted, but it’s cleaned itself up and is healthy now.
“It was a dump, a toilet,” Ecterling said. “But it’s not a wasteland anymore. It’s just under-appreciated.”
For more information, visit nwipa.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (219) 616-8118. To reserve a canoe or kayak, call (224) 415-6554 or email email@example.com.