Mississippi River volunteers
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A river group highlighted in each issue of Big River Magazine
River-cleanup photos by Nancy Fulkum.
Izaak Walton League of Wabasha
Small Group Tackles Big Issues
The Wapashaw Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, in Wabasha, Minn., was formed in 1963. Members claim it is one of the more activist chapters in the state.
The Izaak Walton League of America was formed in 1922 by sportsmen who were concerned about industrial discharges, raw sewage and massive soil erosion ruining the country’s rivers and streams. Izaak Walton was a 17th century English angler and conservationist. The group is often called simply, “the Ikes.”
The Ikes, and specifically its founder Will Dilg, provided the impetus and the political momentum for the creation of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1924.
Projects and Activities
The Wapashaw Ikes’ major activities include a spring river cleanup. The group also removes buckthorn from city parks, sponsors gun safety training for youth and a Children’s Day in the Izaak Walton Park on the river. The club provides scholarship funds for conservation students on a regular basis. Members also help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources maintain nearby Kruger Park.
“We need help with that spring river cleanup,” said president Nancy Fulkum. “It’s a stretch of river from the Chippewa down to Federal Island just below Wabasha. We haul back all kinds of things — tires, plastic chairs, even a sofa. This year we found something that looked like a coffin that was filled with lawn ornaments.” Figuring someone had lost it in a flood, they set it out on a busy street corner. Wabasha being a small town, it wasn’t long until the owners claimed it.
Over the past 40 years the group has taken a strong stand on many local and regional issues, such as the expansion of the the DM&E railroad to haul Wyoming coal.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to do in a small town,” said longtime member Tom Ellis, treasurer and past president.
One of their particular concerns is mercury in the river. In this they follow the lead of the national organization, which sued the federal government in 2004 to force the Environmental Protection Agency to require maximum reductions in mercury and other toxic pollutants rom coal and oil-fired power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act. The Ikes generally take a practical approach to issues, according to Ellis “I joined right away when I moved here because the Ikes promote wise use of the river, not just setting aside land.”
Members, Volunteers and Staff
The Wapashaw Ikes number about 35 in a town of 2,600. Members meet monthly, indoors in winter and at the Izaak Walton Park in the summer. Meeting programs range from hawks and phenology to mercury in the river, to bioengineered food. “We try to get people to pay attention to issues,” said Fulkum.
Funding comes primarily from an annual kayak or canoe raffle. Some funding comes from a portion of the $45 annual membership fee.
Published in Big River Magazine, July 2005.