The area in which the Little River Wetlands Project does its work of wetland restoration and protection is the watershed of the Little River (also known as the Little Wabash), a headwater tributary of the Wabash River originating in Allen County and stretching southwest into Huntington County, Indiana. Most of LRWP’s efforts are focused in the Little River valley, a 25,000 acre area once known as the Great Marsh.
The Little River valley was created when glacial meltwater that had formed a large lake broke through a moraine approximately fourteen thousand years ago, quickly carving out a half mile wide strip of low lying land. The area became marshland that flooded in the wet seasons, and through which a number of small steams meandered year round. Wetland vegetation soon spread throughout the valley and supported numerous and diverse wildlife there. Native American tribes used the marsh for hunting, but early European settlers avoided it as too wet to farm and too difficult for travel other than by horseback, on foot, or by canoe.
One of the streams meandering through the Great Marsh was the historic Little River. It became an important portage between the Maumee River leading to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes, and the Wabash which led eventually to the Mississippi. Later, the Wabash and Erie Canal was dug near the edge of the Little River valley (and along the north boundary of what is now Eagle Marsh). Efforts to drain the Great Marsh began in the late 1800’s. After four attempts, the rich bottom land was finally ditched and drained for farmland, which nonetheless still tended to get too wet during rainy years.
You may wonder why the Little River watershed was chosen as LRWP’s project area. A group of local citizens founded LRWP in 1990 because they were concerned that 85% of Indiana’s original wetlands had been destroyed. In the greater Fort Wayne region, so many wetlands had been drained that nearby rivers were more prone to flooding and native wildlife, especially certain birds and amphibians, had become imperiled due to habitat loss. LRWP’s founders looked for wet areas near Fort Wayne that were not fully built up in homes and businesses, and identified the Little River valley as an ideal site where some land was still available for wetlands restoration and protection. LRWP is proud to protect over 1,100 acres of wetlands in the Little River valley as of 2010.