I still remember seeing Elkhart's rivers for the first time

    Sometimes things are too close for us to really appreciate them. I suppose that coming from somewhere else helped me to recognize the enormous value of the water resources in this place called Elkhart.

    Posted on Aug. 19, 2014 at 4:42 p.m.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The Place Where You Live is a regular column from a variety of writers in Elkhart County. As the column's title suggests, they'll write about issues affecting their neighborhoods and communities.

    I took a teaching position with Elkhart Community School Corp. in summer of 1970. I had grown up in the rust belt of southwestern Ohio, where heavy industries seemed to believe rivers existed to provide a place to dispose of industrial waste. So when I first saw the rivers of Elkhart, I was immediately impressed with how clear the water appeared. Rivers at my former home were Technicolor affairs, the colors depending on who was dumping what into the river that day. They never really looked like water to me.

    As time went by, it seemed that these watery resources seemed to be constantly drawing me in. We built a house in 1976 on the bank of Christiana Creek, where we lived for 22 years. We had a wonderful swimming hole there where kids played daily in the summer. During the dog days of August, the ladies in the neighborhood would pull their lawn chairs into the water where the cool current would gently lessen all of the day’s frustrations. Kayaking and tubing were regular summer rituals.

    It always amazed me how beautiful and natural Christiana Creek appears even long after you’ve entered the city limits. High Dive Park, along Christiana Creek, has been a center for summer activities in the heart of the city for generations. Today, Wellfield Botanic Gardens and Christiana Creek are the perfect partners for one the most visually stunning venues in the Midwest.

    Sometimes I wonder if I would still be running today if it weren’t for the St. Joseph River. Running with friends out of the “Y” on the RiverWalk paths and connecting with Greenleaf Boulevard made running a pleasure for years. One of my very favorite loops was what we called the two-bridge loop. You would run up Greenleaf, across the Six Span Bridge and return along East Jackson Boulevard. The course was all river all the way.

    I have had the good fortune to have been able to travel widely around the United States and the world, and I have a top five all-time-beautiful-runs list. My No. 1 is a sunrise run in a wet, heavy snow across Six Span Bridge as the bright orange sun appears to be climbing out of the river to the east. It's breathtaking.

    Today my runs are fewer but my bike rides are more numerous, and the draw of the water still remains. I guess the good part is that being on the bike I get to take in more distance with river views. Now I often connect with the river at the Six Span Bridge and ride east on CR 8 to Bristol and then my favorite stretch, Trout Creek Road (CR 25) north.

    I’m also spending more time kayaking on the river. I like to throw in at Treasure Island Park, an Elkhart County park west of Nappanee Street near Elliott Park, and paddle in either direction. Martin’s Landing along East Jackson is a good spot to begin paddling up the Upper St. Joe, enjoying the scenery and beautiful homes. The new boat launch facility on the east side of the Six Span Bridge is first class. It is a great place to put in your kayak and an even better place to launch your power boat.

    I’m not sure many people think about the boat launch as a trailhead for bikers, but there is a path across the bridge and even a tunnel for getting to the west side of CR 17. And when you are looking for an energy boost after your ride, the Dairy Queen at the corner of CR 17 and State Road 120 (East Jackson) is practically in the parking lot.

    Sometimes things are too close for us to really appreciate them. I suppose that coming from somewhere else helped me to recognize the enormous value of the water resources in this place called Elkhart. But at other times, it’s just nice to sit on the patio at McCarthy’s restaurant in downtown Elkhart (one of my top five patios) with a cold glass of something in my hand and watch the Elkhart River slide by.

    You may be wondering where we moved after we left Christiana Creek. We are now happy residents of Simonton Lake, another wonderful water resource on Elkhart's north side.

    Is there a pattern here?

    David Foutz retired from teaching in the Elkhart Community Schools and now represents District 1 on the Elkhart County Council.

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