Members of the Wildcat Guardians were joined by officials from the city of Kokomo and NIPSCO during a dedication ceremony for the Steel Mill Public Access point on the Wildcat Creek. The site allows easy access to the Wildcat Creek near the old Continental Steel site. (Herald Photo / Shannon Crouch)
Members of the Wildcat Guardians were joined by officials from the city of Kokomo and NIPSCO during a dedication ceremony for the Steel Mill Public Access point on the Wildcat Creek. The site allows easy access to the Wildcat Creek near the old Continental Steel site. (Herald Photo / Shannon Crouch)
For years, the Wildcat Guardians have patrolled the waterways of Howard County, clearing tons of trash from the Wildcat Creek. With a charter dating to November 1990, the group has been dedicated to improving the health and beauty of the Kokomo waterway.

“We believe that every citizen of the United States must assume some responsibility for the condition of our environment, especially in those areas nearest their homes,” the charter reads. “Wildcat Creek, being one of the most prominent topographical features in the part of Indiana that we call home, deserves our attention. We, the Wildcat Guardians, want to do our part to clean, protect, and maintain our Wildcat Creek. The purpose of this organization is to establish and maintain a year-round program of guardianship and stewardship for Wildcat Creek.”

That mission continued on July 14 when members and community leaders gathered along the banks of the Wildcat to dedicate the Steel Mill Public Access point, located on Park Road south of the intersection of Park and Markland Avenue. The new access point includes a gravel parking lot and walkway to the creek for fishermen, kayakers, canoers and others seeking outdoor recreation. It is not, however, a launch site for motorized boats as the creek is too shallow.

“The hope from years back has been to have public access in a sequence where it would make recreation on the creek easily accessible,” said Wildcat Guardians President Mary Rowe. “We want access about every 10 miles, and we have various access points in Howard County. We want people to get in and get out on a nice day or evening trip. In the city, we wanted closer distances, which is what (Steel Mill Public Access) accomplishes.”

The Steel Mill Access Point joins other access points in Kokomo located at UCT Park, Foster Park and Waterworks Park. There are also three access points at the Kokomo Reservoir, two in Greentown, one south of Greentown at Pe-Che-Wah and one west of Howard County in Burlington.

The Wildcat Creek winds 83 miles in Central Indiana, forming east of Greentown before emptying into the Wabash River east of Lafayette. It has been designated one of Indiana’s scenic waterways. Rowe said the creek is beautiful when looking at it up close, and she hopes it will stay that way.

“We are asking the public, for their part, to be responsible and be good citizens by keeping it clean for everyone to use,” said Rowe of Steel Mill and the rest of the Wildcat Creek. “Please keep it clean.”

Mike Bach, a member of the Wildcat Guardians, related a story about keeping the creek clean. Rowe said it also shows how the creek can be utilized for activities besides kayaking, canoeing and fishing.

“I was out at (County Road 440 access point) to do a little praying and I saw a car sitting there,” he recalled. “Then I heard a voice asking for a trash bag. She said she was down there and couldn’t stand the trash, so she picked up the parking lot. The reason she goes down there is not to fish or canoe – she has had some rough spots in her life and she goes down there for solitude and checks out nature. It gave me goosebumps and I gave her a big hug. It gave me a warm feeling knowing we are helping the public in more ways than just the recreational part of it.”

The Steel Mill Public Access project was made possible by a joint effort between the Wildcat Guardians, City of Kokomo, Martin Marrieta Aggregates and NIPSCO. The city now owns the land and contributed materials and labor to build the access point. Martin Marrieta discounted materials and became a sponsor. And NIPSCO contributed $5,000 through its Environmental Action Grant program. The Steel Mill Public Access was one of 14 projects to receive a grant for environmental initiatives.

“We received nearly 50 applications, all with very worthwhile projects and programs that build upon this region’s local environmental assets” said Larry Graham, managing director of public affairs for NIPSCO. “We believe the funded projects will contribute toward enhancing a local quality of life and provide great value to northern Indiana residents.”

“These grants leverage and extend the environmental work we’re already doing with renewable energy, improving air quality, reforestation and restoration,” said Kelly Carmichael, environmental vice president for NiSource.

For many, the Wildcat Creek is the little “crick” that runs through the county and occasionally floods. But now, with another easily accessible entry point, the creek is a quickly becoming a viable recreation area for families to enjoy.