TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — “In your lifetime have you ever stood in the middle of the (Wabash) river?”
Brendan Kearns, Director of Vigo County’s Soil and Water Conservation District posed the question to WTWO’s Chief Meteorologist, Jesse Walker.
“A beach here in Terre Haute at Fairbanks Park,” Kearns said, smiling. “It’s a place people dreamed of,” he added.
“I have never seen anything like this at all,” Karl Cooper, a Terre Haute resident said. “I’ve been able to walk out in certain parts and sandbars but nothing, nothing like this. I’m totally astonished.”
It’s a beach Kearn said is three years in the making. “We are experiencing a low river again. This is the third year in a row, where we’ve had these durations for a long period of a low river.”
A beach Kearns said is here to stay.
“I’m wondering where all the dirt and silt came from cause I’ve never seen that,” Cooper said.
“This is a result of erosion,” Kearns said. “So, when you look at our record lows, we don’t have as much precipitation as we have, you’re the expert on that. This bank right here isn’t holding water, so it gets dry, it’s a sandy mixture, it gets brittle.”
Kearns said when hard rain events happen, the rushing water pulls away at the bank. “When you look at Fairbanks Park, there is absolutely nothing protecting this. And as we fell down this hill, we’ve looked at all the different types of vegetation, it’s undesirable vegetation. It’s weeds. We have trumpet vines; we have stuff that’s on top but there’s no root system on there. So, we don’t have anything holding this together.”
From mussel shells to great blue herons and egrets, Kearns says there’s a lot to check out, “Come out, explore the beach, you and I are in a safe spot. Be aware that there could be pockets like it’s wet there and wet there, you could get stuck in the mud there, it could be hard to get out.”
Indiana Conservation Officer, Max Winchell said anytime you’re dealing with the river, it’s important to remember the depths are always unpredictable.
“I would advise wearing a life jacket and be with someone else nearby and keep an eye on your kids if you’re going to have them down there as well,” Winchell said.
“You and I could walk across the river today,” Kearns said. “But don’t try to walk across, because when you get to the west bank over there it does drop down, there is a channel there is stuff in that channel. So, the big issue is if you get caught in there like let’s say you and I are walking across there, and we get caught in what we call a snag like a tree or limbs in there, that water’s pushing. It’s flowing. That water’s going to win.”
“We’ve already had one fatality from somebody wading the river,” Winchell said.
While that drowning did not happen in the Fairbanks Park area, it’s still something to keep in mind.
“If you’re going to be doing that, please wear a life jacket before you go across the river,” Winchell added.
Kerns said placing boulders and backfill along the banks of the Wabash in Fairbanks Park would make a difference in terms of erosion in that area.