November 8, 2023
Protecting our waterways together
By: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful
Indianapolis is a city where collaboration thrives. And our waterways are no exception! In October, we teamed up with Frank’s Paddlesports Livery and Friends of the White River for a water cleanup to help protect and preserve Wallet Island and Butterfly Island.
During this guided cleanup, volunteers made a meaningful contribution to the health and beauty of our local watershed. Many hands came together to make light and impactful work on our waterways. We caught up with Summer, Peter and Sarah to get the behind the scenes look at how this project came to life.
Meet the Team
Director of Clean Neighborhoods at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful
Get to know Summer: I am the Director of Clean Neighborhoods (or as I sometimes call myself, the Queen of Trash). I oversee our team that works to reduce litter in Indianapolis through our Adopt-A-Block and Great Indy Cleanup programs, and our partnerships with Keys2Work and waterway-focused organizations.
Owner/Operator at Frank’s Paddlesports Livery Co.
Get to know Peter: I was born in Winchester, Indiana, near the headwaters of the West Fork of the White River. I grew up as an outdoor enthusiast as my mother and grandfather were avid backpackers. I slowly transitioned into more of a canoe camper as I came to the realization that backpacking is just one long portage.
Watershed Restoration Director at Friends of the White River
Get to know Sarah: I grew up along Carmel Creek where I learned an appreciation for and responsibility to the environment. I am a plant enthusiast, avid adventurer, and experienced outdoor educator. After volunteering for Friends’ River School, I started as Watershed Restoration Director in September of 2023.
What was your organization’s involvement in the volunteer cleanup on Wallet Island and Butterfly Island?
Peter: As the organizing entity and host of the Wallet Island and Butterfly Island clean-up we were able to meet all three of Frank’s main objectives: (1) to explore new opportunities that build the river community; (2) provide equitable river access; and (3) create environmental sustainability. Some volunteers brought their own boats and were able to connect with other river enthusiasts. Other volunteers that took out our boats were able to access the river free-of-charge and experience paddlesports in a beautiful autumnal setting. We already hand-out trash bags to all customers going on regular excursions and rentals, and we’re proud to say our clientele have done a fantastic job of practicing leave-no-trace; but this clean-up event assured that our organization is leaving the river in better condition than we found it at the beginning of the season.
Sarah: Friends of the White River has been organizing and leading canoe-based and shoreline cleanups since 1985, and we’ve only missed one year (2020), due to Covid-19. In 2022, FOWR, our longtime partners at Citizens Energy Group, Indy DPW, and 537 volunteers removed over 39 tons of illegally dumped garbage from the banks of the White River over 7 days. Shore-based cleanups are just as essential to keeping the White River and its tributary streams healthy and clean. Most of the illegally dumped material we’ve removed over the years is on the banks of the White River.
Summer: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) has increased our focus on litter that concentrates along waterways in Indianapolis, including the White River and its tributaries. Friends of the White River and Frank’s Livery identified this area as one where a group of volunteers utilizing canoes could make a big difference, and we are thrilled to support this work. We helped promote the opportunity to volunteers, provided some financial support, and were also able to provide a dumpster to dispose of the collected materials.
Why did you decide to host a cleanup at Wallet Island and Butterfly Island?
Peter: Our city has two incredible assets that have long been under-utilized: White River and Fall Creek. Indianapolis should be a river city! We at Frank’s believe in the power of public spaces to transform a city. It is our view that the White River is inherently Indianapolis’ predominant public space, due to it being deemed a Navigable River. As the owners of Frank’s Livery, we have been due paying members and volunteers of Friends of White River for years prior to starting Frank’s Livery. They’ve done a fantastic job of organizing and hosting river-bank / shore-styled clean-ups in recent years. In general, I tend to rely on their expertise of what areas most need clean-up attention – but I knew from personal experience that these two islands have not been cleaned in a very very long time, if ever. Wallet Island in particular was brought in public-consciousness by Indianapolis-based author John Green. We at Frank’s are fans of Mr. Green / his works and we wanted to do our best to address the very real refuse concerns on this island.
How did attendees contribute to the restoration of Wallet Island and Butterfly Island? What tasks were they given? Did they need any prior experience?
Peter: No experience was necessary and we had an incredibly safe and productive clean-up event. The group pulled many tires out of the river and the island substrate, collected and bagged more styrofoam than I like to think about and a plethora of other dumped/littered garbage from bed frames to compressed CO2 cylinders. Some larger pieces of refuse, we had to dig out of the island bed.
Sarah: Waterway cleanups are hard, but there’s also something magical about them– Canoeing up to an island and exploring to see what treasures you can find. Wondering how that bed frame got there or who wore this flip flop or that flip flop or those sneakers. Imagining all the things you could make with a big, blue barrel. And creating a throne from an old, broken chair. Even discovering your buddy found the lid to the trash can you hauled out. It all brings a child-like joy and sense of accomplishment. It’s a fun and rewarding experience.
We know that litter can enter waterways in a variety of ways especially from wind and rain that carry loose trash to storm drains and later to creeks and rivers. Why is it important that we pay extra attention to protecting our waterways?
Summer: Waterway litter can affect our ecosystem in so many ways! Litter in the water can reduce the oxygen level, which then impairs fish and other wildlife. It can alter habitats, reducing the ability of plants and animals to survive. Wildlife can get caught in plastic and other littered items, as well as consuming it. Litter affects our water quality and requires greater efforts to provide clean drinking water to our communities. It also reduces our opportunities to enjoy our waterways as a place to relax or for recreation.
Sarah: Waterway cleanups are about taking care of our space. In the same way we take our cars to the mechanic or ourselves to the doctor, we must periodically maintain our natural areas. We live in the greater Indianapolis ecosystem and the Upper White River Watershed. We exist as organisms within this habitat. Cleanups are about realizing our role and taking responsibility for this community.
Peter, what role does our local watershed have in the overall environmental health of Indianapolis?
In my opinion, there are six main ways that our local watershed impacts the overall environmental health of Indianapolis: Water quality, Habitat and Biodiversity, Flooding and Erosion Control, Drinking Water Supply, Recreation and Aesthetics and Climate Resilience. This clean-up effort had a direct positive impact on Habitat and Biodiversity, Drinking Water Supply, as well as Recreation and Aesthetics
Bald eagles, mink, turtles, osprey, herons, mussels and egrets are now common fauna sightings along a paddle trip down the White River. That has not always been the case. These species in particular are reliant on a clean watershed and it’s a testament to the work of all the organizations that have been working towards a Wild and Wonderful White River before Frank’s Paddlesports Livery came into being. We may not be able to directly change environmental standards in Indiana (affecting aspects such as water quality, flooding and erosion control, and climate resilience) but the more people we get involved and interested in our watershed the more collective power the citizenry has to insist that this is an important asset to our city.
We talk a lot about how Indianapolis is a city of collaboration. This clean-up had support from Frank’s Livery, Friends of the River White, and Reconnecting our Waterway. Why is this type of collaboration important to our city’s ecosystem?
Summer: We are fortunate in Indianapolis to have groups already working together to improve the ecosystem along our waterways, including Friends of the White River, Frank’s Livery, Reconnecting to our Waterways, and the White River Alliance. KIB’s goal is to add additional capacity to their efforts, to engage more volunteers, to remove more litter through a variety of cleanup opportunities, and to expand the work we do as a community to improve our valuable natural community resources.
Sarah: Water-based cleanups are backbreaking and muddy work, and it takes staff and volunteers who are skilled canoeists to be able to do it safely and efficiently. That’s why working with Frank’s Livery is so great. KIB has provided dumpsters for the Downtown White River Cleanup for quite some time through their Great Indy Cleanup program. We’re stoked that Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is dedicating additional resources and funding to waterway cleanups.
Peter: Collaboration always presents more challenges off the bat than operating solo. But the flip-side is that the pay-off is usually exponentially greater than if the effort was made alone. The White River needs more than one organization advocating on its behalf. We are proud to add our voice in harmony to the efforts of The Parks Alliance of Indianapolis, KIB, FoWR, ROW, Indy Parks, White River Alliance, IDEMM, Citizens Energy, Discover White River, Friends of Fort Harrison, Newfields, Visit Indy, White River State Park, IUPUI’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, and others.
Peter, Frank’s Livery is more than just a fun way to explore your city; it’s focused on providing equitable river access and creating environmental sustainability. Can you share more about how you educate our community and paddlers?
Both equitable access and environmental sustainability are baked right into the cake here at Frank’s Livery. Opening up a paddlesports livery inherently makes the river more accessible to both the citizenry and visitors of Indianapolis. The high majority of folks don’t own their own watercraft and even for those that do – the logistics of a river trip can be frustrating. That’s why we run shuttle service for customers with their own boats. Renting a watercraft still comes with a paywall. So how do we break-down that barrier and get the local community out on the river, expose them to the fun and mental health benefits that come along with a paddle excursion down a waterway? That’s why we are starting the Blueways Initiative in collaboration with the Parks Alliance of Indianapolis in order to be able to offer discounted or free paddle trips to the Indy community that might now be able to regularly afford such a commodity. Interested in being involved? Please reach out to the team at Frank’s via phone (260-226-3075) or email.
Prior to getting out on the water, every customer gets a brief orientation. Importance is put on acknowledging that this watershed is the ancestral home of the Miami, Shawnee, Delaware, Potawatomi peoples. The Miami and Delware people referred to the West Fork of the White River as “ Wapahani” meaning, White Sands. That’s the condition that white settlers found the river in, with clear water and the ability to see the white sands on the river bottom. That’s the goal. Honor how the native peoples respected and treated this watershed and return it to its glory.
Summer, it’s easy to get discouraged when you consider the scale of environmental problems facing our city and more broadly the world. But if everyone does a little bit, it makes a huge difference! How have you seen this manifested in your role as the Director of Clean Neighborhoods?
When we do a litter cleanup, of any size, we get to see the immediate results of our work. In a relatively small amount of time, we can transform a littered area to one that feels more like home. It can be easy to feel like we aren’t making a difference when we think about the immensity of the issue, but each cleanup shows us close-up that what we do matters..I consider myself fortunate to be a part of this important work.
Guided cleanups like this one are great ways for residents to connect with like-minded individuals who are committed to making our city cleaner and greener. But you can also make a difference as an individual. How else can residents learn about or support your work especially with the colder months coming up?
- KIB’s Adopt-A-Block program, supported by the City of Indianapolis, provides free supplies to residents and organizations to help keep their block (and its storm drains) clean all year round. Tools provided include a selection of litter grabbers, push brooms, shovels, large dust pans, buckets, reflective vests, gloves, and garbage bags. Participants are also eligible for free plants and a tree each fall, along with other program perks!
- A group wanting to hold a larger litter cleanup can sign up for our Great Indy Cleanup program, which provides free garbage bags, gloves, and litter grabbers, as well as dumpsters and garbage trucks (depending on availability) to dispose of the collected material. In addition to those cleanups, KIB partners with four groups per year to help plan a larger-scale cleanup.
- We have a wide variety of ways to get involved, so each person or organization can find what fits your time and interests the best. Visit kibi.org to learn more about our variety of programs and sign up to volunteer, adopt your block, or host a cleanup!
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) is an environmental and community nonprofit with a mission to help people and nature thrive. We believe in shared responsibility, and we know that sustainability starts with love. So we engage and empower citizens of all ages and backgrounds to take action. From tree planting to block-by-block cleanups, we roll up our sleeves to keep Indianapolis beautiful and make our city proud-both today and for generations.
- The easiest way to stay in touch with our efforts and events would be to follow our social media pages (Facebook, X (Twitter), and Instagram) and subscribe to our email newsletter.
- As a part of our environmental sustainability initiatives, Frank’s Livery offers a continuous clean-up effort program called Frank’s Trash BINGO. Clientele have the ability to earn Frank’s Livery gift cards if they want to collect trash along their route. ‘Leave No Trace’ as a concept is talked about often and seriously at Frank’s Paddlesports Livery.
- As mentioned above, if you work for an organization or know someone who would like to help sponsor the Blueways Initiative – focused on getting folks out on the watershed of Indianapolis by offering free or discounted services – please reach out directly to Frank’s Paddlesports Livery.
At Frank’s Paddlesports Livery is Indianapolis’ leading provider of canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, tailored experiences and instruction. We aim to explore new opportunities that build the river community, provide equitable river access and create environmental sustainability. Whether you’re a first-time paddler or an experienced water enthusiast, we have the equipment and expertise to help you make the most of your time on the water.
- The best way to support us is through joining Friends of the White River. Tax-deductible donations of $50 and above includes a one-year membership in Friends of the White River.
- Residents can keep an eye out on our events calendar for any upcoming winter volunteer events.
- Sign up for our email list through the form at the bottom of every page on the website.
Friends of the White River advocates for the preservation of the river as Central Indiana’s most precious natural resource. We represent the people who use the river for outdoor recreation, those who live near its banks, and all citizens who benefit from the river. We secure the necessary resources to educate, inform, and collaborate with the community including individuals, educators, government, business and other organizations. Our goal is to sustain the long-term viability of the White River for future generations.