Big River Man Does Sundance
Wis. — Martin Strel, a Slovenian endurance
athlete, swam the Mississippi River in 2000. He gained
more media attention two years later when he swam 3,274
miles down the Amazon River. Strel has crawled, back-stroked
and breast-stroked down several other big rivers, including
the Danube and the Yangtse. His motto is, “Plavam
za mir, prijateljstvo in ciste vode,” which is Slovenian
for, “I swim for peace, friendship and clean waters.”
Accompanying Strel on the 68-day Amazon
trip was a writer from Fountain City, Wis., who navigated
the support boat. Matt Mohlke turned his notes into a fast-paced
adventure book, The Man Who Swam
the Amazon (reviewed in Big
River, November-December 2008).
The cinematographers who accompanied
Strel created the film, “Big River Man,“ which
won an award for cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival
in Park City, Utah, this year.
Mohlke was there and had a great time.
“I appear in the movie quite
a bit and talk a lot. I churn out some pretty crazy religious
philosophy and whatnot, all with
the backdrop of the Amazon River and Martin swimming beside
me. It was pretty cool getting recognized on the street by
people who’d seen the movie.”
Mohlke to join his Amazon expedition after reading his
account of a solo-canoe trip down the Mississippi, Floating
Down the Country. Mohlke considers that book thoroughly
his own, while the Amazon journals were “something
I did to help Strel.”
“He’s an old-school expedition
guy,” Mohlke said. “It was kind of military-like.
He told us what to do and we did it. He told me to keep a
journal, like Shackleton did, to record all daily events,
so that’s what I did.”
Would he consider joining another Strel
“There are very few rivers that
would beckon Martin after doing the Amazon. Three that come
to mind are the Nile, the Ganges and the Yukon. Of these
three, I’d be most eager to paddle the Yukon as his
exciting, but there’s
no place like home.
“After spending three months
on the Amazon, getting back on the Mississippi River was
quite a contrast. It felt so tiny — the Amazon was
25 miles wide at the base and always wider than [Lake] Pepin.
I still hold that with our bluffs and backwater systems the
Old Miss is a prettier river with just as much wildlife on
the main banks. On the Amazon you really have to go deep
up inside the tributaries in order to see the more exotic
creatures. Give me a day of eagles, blue herons and egrets
anytime, and leave out the malaria medication side effects
and the worms growing in my intestines. I’ll take the
Mississippi any day.”
the end of the film say, “Filmed
on location in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Fountain City,
Wisconsin,” because the film crew came to catch Mohlke
and five other Fountain Citians in their natural habitat
on the banks of the Mississippi.
River Man, Martin Strel--Amazon Swim
St. Paul — St.
Paul’s annual Millard Fillmore Dinner, an annual spring
networking event and river celebration, will now be called
the Great River Gathering.
The new name fits the occasion better
than the old one.
“The dinner really is all about
the city coming together to celebrate the city’s progress
of the last year,” said Patrick Seeb, executive director
of Riverfront Corp., which produces the event.
was originally named for 13th U.S. president, Millard Fillmore,
who was the most prominent of the hundreds of prominent people
who came upriver by steamboat on the first “Grand Excursion” in
1854. The excursion drew attention and attracted settlers
and developers to the Upper Mississippi. The re-enactment
150 years later had much the same purpose.
The 15th annual
dinner will be held
May 14 at RiverCentre, St. Paul.
Balltown, Iowa — On
October 24, just 10 months after a fire destroyed the 155-year-old
Breitbach’s Country Dining restaurant, a second fire
ravaged the new structure that was built to replace it. Owners
Mike and Cindy Breitbach announced January 28 that they would
rebuild, again. The restaurant was the oldest continuously
operating restaurant in Iowa.
“The community has supported
us for 150 years, so we can’t let it down now,” Mike
said. He is the sixth generation of Breitbachs to own and
operate the restaurant.
Balltown is a small town in northern
Dubuque County that sits on top of scenic hills overlooking
the river. In 2000 it had a population of 73, and the restaurant
was the center of community life. Even precinct caucuses
took place there, drawing people from several miles around.
During recent years, the eatery had
become a favorite stop for tourists traveling the Great River
Road. In 2007 the Food Network’s Alton Brown featured
Breitbach’s in an episode of “Feasting on Asphalt.” Recently,
the James Beard Foundation named it an “American Classic.”
After the first fire, on Christmas
Eve 2007, scores of people volunteered labor and materials
to help rebuild the restaurant, and it re-opened in July
2008. The new building, which combined the historic, antique
feel of the first structure with clean, modern lines of a
newer building, seated about 180 people.
Mike Breitbach said the new facility
will look much like the second building. Construction is
scheduled to begin in mid March.
The first fire was caused by a gas
explosion. The cause of the second fire has yet to be determined,
though foul play is not suspected.
Dubuque, Iowa — In
February, the Army Corps of Engineers began repairing or
replacing much of the machinery that operates the 13 Tainter
gates and three submersible roller gates that keep the pool
above Lock and Dam 11 at a minimum depth of nine feet. It
is also working on the four operating houses, structures
on top of the dam that house the machinery.
This is the third of a four-phase,
$72 million rehabilitation of the lock and dam in Dubuque.
The entire project is slated for completion in 2012.
In 2007 and 2008, the Corps removed
and repaired the lock gates. Previously, contractors replaced
the machinery that operates those gates, removed and replaced
seven feet of concrete on the upper and lower guide walls
and rewired the chamber.
This is the first major rehab of the
lock and dam since it went in to operation in 1937. “There
is a lot of 1937 technology that needs to be brought up to
modern specs,” said Ron Fournier, spokesperson for
the Corps’ Rock Island District.
Minn. — A Minnesota man was letting his dog
out of the house one morning last November when he saw
a 15-point trophy buck standing near a stop sign a few
hundred yards from one of the biggest and busiest freeways
in the Twin Cities. He went back in and got his crossbow.
By the time he returned, the buck was 25 feet from the
freeway shoulder. When he shot it, it jumped back over
the fence and died in a parking lot, where a sympathetic
passerby helped the hunter load it into the trunk of a
The story might have ended where a
lot of poaching stories end — in the freezer or the
frying pan — if not for an anonymous tip to the Department
of Natural Resources.
When confronted, the man, who has a
disability permit to hunt deer with a crossbow, claimed he
thought he’d killed the deer legally, since it was
on state property.
The case went to court on Christmas
Eve Day, which might help explain why the judge dismissed
the case for lack of a full investigation report and wished
the defendant a merry Christmas.
The hunter, whom news reports described
as elderly, living in a trailer, with health problems and
not much money, got his crossbow back, along with a warning.
Irked prosecutors were considering refiling the case.
New Carp Zapper
Chicago — The
Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard hope to keep
silver carp and bighead carp out to the Great Lakes with
a new $9 million electric fish barrier in the canal that
links the Mississippi watershed with Lake Michigan. (The
Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was built in the early 1900s
to divert the city’s sewage from Lake Michigan to the
Mississippi River via the Chicago, Des Plaines and Illinois
rivers.) The exotic fish haven’t made it up the Illinois
and Des Plaines Rivers to the Great Lakes yet, although they
are just 45 miles away.
Silver and bighead carp are native
to China and were imported by commercial fish operations
in the 1970s to clean up algae and other junk in fish ponds.
A few escaped during flooding in the early 1990s and have
been expanding their territory ever since.
The new barrier is designed to fire
powerful jolts of electricity into the water to repel fish,
but it also poses a potentially lethal problem for barges
carrying flammable materials and to recreational boaters
or anyone else who might fall overboard.
After more than two years of safety
studies, the Corps and the Coast Guard have agreed that operating
the barrier at about 25 percent capacity should repel adult
fish and still be safe for boaters. That wouldn’t be
enough to keep small fish out, but tests will resume soon,
with the hope of using higher voltages this summer.
The Corps expects to turn the barrier
on in mid March 2009.
The fish could always find their way
to the lakes during flooding. No one has yet talked of setting
up additional electric barriers to prevent that.
After testing hundreds of strains of
bacteria in search of one that might kill invasive mussels,
scientists have come up with a good prospect: Pseudomonas
fluorescens, a common species that prevents rot in
the roots of certain plants. In the lab, it proved deadly
to both zebra mussels and quagga mussels, both of which are
wreaking ecological havoc across the country.
Zebras and quaggas are closely related
species that are native to Eastern Europe and western Russia.
Both have invaded the Great Lakes and most of the Mississippi
Daniel Molloy, researcher with the
New York State Museum, said that the bacterium might be useful
for clearing water intakes and power plant pipes that have
been clogged by mussels, but could never wipe out mussels
in large bodies of water. More testing needs to be done,
he said. (Chicago Tribune,
Minn. — Should you feed wild ducks, geese
and swans? The question emerged in Minnesota this winter
after a woman stopped feeding trumpeter swans accustomed
to her handouts. Many of them ended up in trouble.
Sheila Lawrence, whose home backs on
the Mississippi River 50 miles upstream from Minneapolis,
has been feeding trumpeter swans in the winter for more than
two decades. Back in the 1980s trumpeters were re-introduced
in the Twin Cities area, part of a larger effort to bring
them back to their traditional nesting areas. Now, more than
a thousand of the big white swans come to her house to eat
the corn she puts out for them. Fearing an outbreak of disease
among the tightly clustered birds, the Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources (DNR), asked her to quit for a month
Lawrence quit and the swans dispersed.
Some biologists approved. “It
was good to see the swans resorting to instinctual behaviors,” observed
Harvey Halvorsen, a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin
But the outcome wasn’t all good.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, Minn., reported
it has treated 40 trumpeters this winter, twice the normal
number. Some had lead poisoning, and others had flown into
power lines, too weak to gain altitude, perhaps from hunger.
When they saw the connection, the DNR
asked Sheila to bring out the corn again.
Now she’s back to doling out
1,300 pounds of hard-shell corn daily, using an auger that
pushes the feed through an irrigation pipe from a driveway
hopper that’s regularly topped up by a grain-delivery
truck. She reports banded specimens to wildlife officials
and sometimes wades into the shallows to save a diseased
bird. “Once or twice a year she comes in soaking wet,” said
her husband Jim Lawrence.
Sick swans go to the wildlife rehab
The controversy over feeding wildlife
is not a simple one.
Lawrence’s feeding “has
protected swans from things like lead poisoning, and protection
has kept them in good breeding condition,” said Larry
Gillette, senior wildlife manager for nearby Three Rivers
Park District. Lawrence’s feeding, Gillette added, “has
probably allowed the population to grow almost twice as fast
as it would have if she had not been doing this.”
On the other hand, while feeding may
have merit when populations are low or a species has just
been re-introduced, it should eventually stop, argued Wisconsin’s
Halvorsen. The Wisconsin DNR discourages feeding.
Trumpeters don’t need “handouts,” insists
Sumner Matteson, director of the Wisconsin DNR Trumpeter
Swan Recovery Program. The birds carry good fat reserves
for winter. “One of the drawbacks of feeding swans
is that they may become dependent on people, and we don’t
want them to become acclimated to humans, especially as a
source of treats.” Swans turn aggressive in mating
season, and corn is “not nutritionally optimal” for
birds that are meant to eat underwater tubers, he argued.
The 25-pound trumpeters have a wingspread
of nearly seven feet. Their distinctive din fills the winter
air outside the Lawrence’s residence. Their noisy courtship
displays start around Valentine’s Day, said Jim Lawrence.
Mated swans tend to stay together for life. Swans in captivity
may live 30 years.
The racket of 1,200 trumpeters arriving
daily to feed doesn’t penetrate the Lawrence’s
home. Nor do neighbors complain, said Jim Lawrence. “Nobody’s
outside in the winter,” he noted — except visitors
who come to the cul-de-sac off I-94, an hour’s drive
northwest of Minneapolis, to see the spectacle. “You’re
never going to get this close to a bunch of trumpeter swans
in the wild,” he said.
The feeding lasts through March. About
8,000 people come annually to see the gathering of big birds
at Monticello’s municipal Swan Park, adjacent to the
Lawrence home. The feeding cost, mostly born by Sheila Lawrence
with help from private donations, was $5,000 per year but
spiked to $14,000 in 2008 when demand for ethanol fuel drove
up corn prices. Canada geese and ducks vie for their share
as disinterested scaups skim by on the brisk current offshore.
Warm-water discharged from Xcel Energy’s nuclear power
plant upstream keeps about five miles of river open during
The sick swans probably picked up the
lead from pond bottoms where they dabble. Their long necks
allow them to reach underwater plants in deeper water than
other waterfowl, which puts them at greater risk of ingesting
lead shot settled in plants roots and sediment four feet
down. It lodges in swans’ gastrointestinal tracks,
where it slowly dissolves into the blood. Lead poisoning
causes lethargy and loss of coordination and balance. Disoriented
victims may freeze into the ice.
Sheila Lawrence knows lead poisoning
by sight in trumpeters. “They kind of act like nobody’s
home up-stairs,” she said. Lawrence waits until a sick
swan is near, seizes it from the back to avoid its clawed
feet, and pops it into a dog kennel for transport to the
rehab center. There, x-rays may show lead shot in the gizzard.
A flushing-out procedure called lavage helps anesthetized
birds vomit out the shot.
Rules on lead shot and sinkers vary
from state to state and according to circumstances. However,
many stores still sell lead sinkers and jigs. Even if it
was completely banned, it would remain in feeding grounds
for years to come.
In terms of lead, the Mississippi River
isn’t as dangerous as off-river wetlands. In the river,
lead shot often is buried by sediment. “I don’t
think that the river represents the same level of threat
for poisoning waterfowl,” said Carrol Henderson, nongame
wildlife program supervisor with the Minnesota DNR in St.
Paul. “In that regard, the fact that swans are wintering
on the river might actually be a good thing.”
If they didn’t stay here in the
winter, where would those thousand trumpeters go? Some go
to Arkansas. Some of their ancestors would have gone to now-vanished
wetlands along the Lower Mississippi.
But for more than 1,000 trumpeter swans,
the routine now is simple: Guard your nesting area until
it freezes over. Then go to Sheila’s.
Bridge to Credit
Davenport, Iowa — A
2005 federal grant awarded Davenport funds to build a pedestrian
and bicycle bridge across Credit Island Slough. The project
should finally become reality this year, now that a new design
has been selected.
A huge jump in the price of steel forced
designers back to the drawing board. The new design has a
concrete arch with wide viewing areas.
The bridge will link the island with
Concord Street, Sunderbuch Park and Duck Creek, and from
there follow the Mississippi River Trail to Buffalo and Muscatine,
River Action, a Quad Cities nonprofit
group, reported that construction is scheduled to start in
2009 and be completed 10 months later.
Minn. — A cell phone and an airboat helped
save the life of a teenager in the Mississippi River backwaters
on one of the coldest days of January.
School let out at 1:15 p.m. that day
because of snow. When Adam Bolkert of Winona took a shortcut
on his way home, he was not prepared for adventure, but he
did have a cell phone.
Cutting through the woods and backwaters,
he fell through the ice. He made his way to a nearby island
and called 911 at 3:54 p.m. His call was routed to the sheriff’s
office, which brought up a GPS location. For the next hour
and a half police, the Winona County Dive and Rescue Team,
and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources personnel searched
the area, while Bolkert stayed on his cell phone. First Responders
on snowmobiles scoured the woods. Police sounded sirens and
fired emergency flares to give Bolkert reference points.
Airboats were launched.
DNR officer Tom Hemker knew the area
well, but when he got to the boat landing, his airboat was
frozen to the trailer and couldn’t be launched, even
by driving backwards and slamming on the brakes. Fast work
with a pry-bar by two Winona police officers freed the boat.
When Hemker found Bolkert at 5:18 p.m. — cold,
soaked and disoriented — the sun was going down and
it was starting to snow. In Hemker’s words, “It
was completely dark when I brought him in, and the snow was
swirling to the point where if the rescue had started a half-hour
later, vision would have gone from 50 yards to 10 feet. You
couldn’t see anything. Absolutely amazing that Adam
Bolkert was taken to a hospital and
soon released. He was cold but not yet hypothermic.
The sheriff said it was a good thing
Bolkert had a cell phone. Hemker was glad he’d had
an airboat. “If the DNR didn’t have them [airboats],
I have no idea how we would have rescued him,” Hemker
News 1-13-09, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
press release 1-16-09)
D.C. — The general manager of the Southern
Nevada Water Authority, Pat Mulroy, made headlines in January
by supporting an old idea — collecting Mississippi
River floodwater and using it to recharge the groundwater
beneath the Central Plains. The 174,000 square-mile Ogallala
Aquifer, which stretches across eight states from Texas
to South Dakota, has been depleted by over-use, agricultural
irrigation and drought. The aquifer recharges slowly because
of overlying clay-caliche soils. Some estimates say it
will dry up in as little as 25 years.
Pat Mulroy took her idea to a forum
at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. on January
12, staged to consider possible policy recommendations for
President Barack Obama.
“If the West is growing drier
[through climate change] and the Midwest is growing wetter,
I see that as an opportunity,” said Mulroy. “Mark
my words, unless we do something considered outrageous by
today’s standards, the West is going to run dry.”
While waiting for approval, funding
and completion of this mega-project, the Southern Nevada
Water Authority is forging ahead with plans to pump Ogallala
Aquifer groundwater from eastern Nevada across hundreds of
miles to Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Texas oilman, entrepreneur
and energy-independence campaigner T. Boone Pickens has created
a new water district on his land in the Texas panhandle,
which will allow him to proceed with plans to pump 200,000
acre-feet of water from the Ogallala aquifer every year and
send it to major metro areas via huge pipes. The antique “Rule
of Capture” law, which still stands only in Texas,
allows him to pump as much water as he wants from directly
under his land, according to the Public Citizen website,
a nonprofit public interest organization.
Pickens predicts that water will become
the scarcest resource in the world.
Review-Journal 1-12-09, Denver
Iowa — A new Quad Cities Waterfront Convention
Center opened this January in Bettendorf, Iowa. The main
event hall in the 50,000 square-foot facility can accommodate
1,800 people or seat 1,000 for dinner.
The Quad Cities needed such a facility,
plus 500 hotel rooms nearby, in order to attract conferences
and conventions to the area, said Steve VanDyke, Bettendorf’s
director of economic development. “It’s not meant
for boat shows or car shows. It’s meant for educational
The convention center is connected
via skyways to the Isle Casino, a smaller banquet facility,
a parking ramp and two hotels. The Paradise Hotel and the
Palm Hotel offer a total of 512 rooms.
“That makes this the largest
hotel complex in the state,” VanDyke said.
The center cost $17 million to build.
The city of Bettendorf issued $20 million in bonds to cover
the cost of the facility, which will be paid back primarily
through property taxes on the Paradise Hotel. The hotel opened
In addition, the city received a $4.1
million grant from the Vision Iowa fund, $250,000 from Scott
County, $250,000 from the federal government and loan guarantees
from the Scott County Regional Authority.
Dresbach, Minn. — In
mid December, two Canadian Pacific freight trains collided
near Lock and Dam 7 in Dresbach, sending one locomotive into
the river. The smaller train, pulling 15 cars, apparently
failed to yield and broadsided the larger one, pulling 93
cars and three locomotives. The smaller train’s locomotive
ended up in the Mississippi, and two tanker cars tumbled
down an embankment, leaking liquid fertilizer. According
to a sheriff’s report, the smaller train was traveling
on a siding and did not stop before entering the main track.
No one was seriously injured.
About 30,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer
leaked into the river. The fertilizer contained 28 percent
liquid nitrogen and a mixture of ammonium nitrate and water.
Nitrogen causes eutrophication in the river by stimulating
fast plant growth and decay, which consumes oxygen in the
water leading to fish kills. Tests showed no evidence of
a fish kill and, although initial tests showed nitrate levels
at three times normal, it dissipated rapidly. Lock operators
were on the lookout for dead fish.
After years of on-again off-again attention,
state officials, mayors and regional employers are paying
attention again to a possible high-speed rail connection
from Chicago to St. Paul.
Everyone agrees it’s a good idea.
The question is, where exactly should it go? Early in 2009,
the most popular route followed the Amtrak Empire Builder
line from Chicago to La Crosse, Wis., and up the Mississippi
River to St. Paul. Winona and other rivertowns have formed
a coalition and passed resolutions in favor of that route,
because it would cost less and could be built more quickly.
Meanwhile, the new Southeast Minnesota
Rail Alliance is working to detour the route away from the
river and through Rochester, Minn., arguing that Mayo Clinic
is the state’s largest employer and draws many thousands
of visitors each year.
The original 1994 transportation study
of the concept imagined five, 110-mph trains running the
route each day.
Even if state and federal lawmakers
act promptly to approve the project as part of a nationwide
economic stimulus package, it would still take years to develop
the line, beginning with a two-year Environmental Impact
Dubuque, Iowa — Amid
the maelstrom of economic problems, Dubuque received some
good news. In January, International Business Machines Corp.
(IBM) announced that it will create 1,300 new jobs there.
According to the Dubuque Telegraph
Herald, IBM picked Dubuque for a new technical-support
center, because the city boasts a healthy workforce, access
to college students, quality education, a low crime rate
and affordable housing. In addition, IBM will receive a
healthy incentive package, consisting of $24.5 million
from Dubuque Initiatives, a quasi-public economic-development
organization, $14 million from the state of Iowa, a jobs-training
program worth $8.5 million from Northeast Iowa Community
College and $5.6 million from the city of Dubuque. As of
press time, the financial package had yet to be approved
by the city and the state, but it was expected to sail
The company will hire 350 to 400 people
in June and another 350 to 400 in August. It expects to employ
the full 1,300 by June 2010. About 80 percent of the workforce
will consist of technical-support staff. Pay will range from
$30,000 to $75,000, with an average pay of $45,000. Many
positions will be filled locally, but IBM will bring a substantial
number of people to the city, the Telegraph
IBM will lease a nine-story building
downtown, that was constructed in 1929 for a department store
and which currently houses a variety of companies and professional
Headquartered in Armonk, N.Y., the
company makes computer hardware and software. Lately it has
bucked the national trend toward lower profits. Its fourth-quarter
earnings in 2008 were up 12 percent, to $4.4 billion, from
its fourth-quarter earnings in 2007, according to the New
St. Paul — Natural
resource agencies and conservation volunteers spend many
hours each year clearing invasive buckthorn from woods and
other natural areas. The glossy-leaved shrub from Europe
invades woods and wetlands, and rapidly expands its territory
as birds eat the berries and spread the seeds. Buckthorn,
which can grow to be 25 feet tall, chokes off native vegetation
everywhere, and is a special threat to the bur oak, a tree
once common on oak savannas and riverbluff prairies. It’s
nearly impossible to eradicate through mechanical or chemical
Now, with a half-million-dollar grant
from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, buckthorn
is being burned to light and heat buildings. District Energy
St. Paul grinds up the brush and burns the chips in its biomass-to-energy
Ten sites in Minnesota, including several
overlooking the Mississippi — Fort Snelling, Pilot
Knob Hill in Mendota Heights and Indian Mounds Park in St.
Paul — are part of the pilot project. All of the sites
are within 75 miles of District Energy St. Paul, which is
the biggest hot water district-heating system in North America.
When the grant runs out this summer, planners hope cities
and other entities will fund the project.
District-heating systems circulate
hot water to residential and business buildings. The idea
also hails from Europe — specifically, the Roman baths
and greenhouses of the Roman Empire — and is still
a common source of heating in Denmark, Finland, Poland, Sweden
and other countries. According to its website, District Energy
heats more than 185 buildings and 300 homes in and near downtown
St. Paul. It also cools more than 95 buildings in the summer.
District Energy began as a public-private
project during the energy crisis of the 1970s.
New Orleans — The
contract is out on the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).
In December, the Army Corps of Engineers gave a “notice
to proceed” to a contractor to build the rock barrier
closing the MRGO, the controversial shortcut shipping channel
between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the Environmental Defense
Fund, the outlet allowed saltwater to flow into the area’s
freshwater bayous and lakes, killing cypress forests and
wetlands that had served as a natural hurricane barrier.
It was also criticized for being a waste of taxpayers money.
The rock barrier will be 950 feet long,
use more than 420,00 tons of rock, and should be completed
in late 2009. The Congress-directed closure plan includes
• Grounded from overnight cruises
since late fall 2008, the Delta
Queen’s future is unclear. However, rather than
languishing at a dock in New Orleans, the steam-powered paddleboat
will be welcoming overnight guests as a boutique hotel in
Chattanooga, Tenn., according to the Vicksburg
It will be leased to the owner of Chattanooga
Water Taxi and Fat Cat Ferry, and moored at Coolidge Park
Landing on the Tennessee River. The lease specifies that
the boat cannot be altered. In December the boat was nominated
as one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.
• Meanwhile, the Robert
E Lee was sold at auction in St. Louis for $200,000
to a father and son who want to eventually operate it as
• RiverBarge Excursion Lines,
Inc. announced that it is closing all operations for 2009,
due to rising costs and very soft bookings, according to
a press release.
RiverBarge Lines offered casual four-
to 10-day excursions on the River
Explorer, two barges pushed by a 3,000-hp towboat.
It cruised up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and through
the Intracoastal Waterway and the Louisiana bayous. The floating
hotel celebrated its 10th anniversary last September. According
to the Waterways Journal (1-5-09),
owner Eddie Conrad said he hoped to run again, if the economy
• The Minnesota Marine Art Museum
in Winona, Minn., announced in late December that it had
not raised enough of the $2 million to $3 million it needs
to relocate, refurbish and operate a retired Army Corps of
Engineers dredge, the William A.
Thompson, and has withdrawn its proposal to the Corps.
The museum had planned to move the 267-foot-long, 1935, wooden
workboat to a site adjacent to the museum and open it to
the public. (See Dredge William
A. Thompson, page 24, this issue.)
A group of local residents may try
to raise funds independently to bring the dredge to Winona.
Meanwhile, the museum is moving ahead
with its planned 6,850-square-foot expansion of the gallery,
which will display marine-related paintings by Impressionist
and Hudson River School artists. The new gallery is expected
to open May 1.
• Skipperliner Industries, a La
Crosse, Wis., boatbuilder and operator, will be running riverboat
cruises in Anoka, Minn., this summer, on a new paddlewheeler
on the Rum River, a tributary of the Mississippi.
Plans call for the new boat to run
about half a mile down from the city dock to the Mississippi,
and from there several miles downriver to the Coon Rapids
Dam or upriver about a mile.
Old Land, New Protection
Several new parcels of land near the
Mississippi became protected in late 2008.
• The city of Red Wing, Minn.,
with help from the Minnesota Land Trust, added 15 acres to
the Billings-Tomfohr Conservation Area, known as Coon Hill,
completing the 93-acre natural area. Scenic vistas overlook
the river valley, and the area is used for environmental
• Farther upriver, in Hastings,
Minn., at the confluence of the Vermillion and Mississippi
Rivers, about 297 acres became public land. The Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources will manage one portion as
an aquatic area, and another as a wildlife area.
The land was previously owned by the
estate of Raymond Frietag. Several conservation groups contributed
to the effort.
• Downstream, Stanley Ledebuhr
of Winona, Minn., donated a 20-acre Wisconsin bluff to the
Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). The land, overlooking
the Mississippi in Buffalo County, near Winona, is the first
nature preserve for the MVC in the county, and is open for
hiking, hunting and other public uses.
• Not very far from the Mississippi,
near Gays Mills, Wis., the family farm of author Ben Logan
will be protected with an easement agreement with the MVC.
Seldom Seen Farm was the setting for Logan’s The
Land Remembers. Tillable land in the 103-acre farm
will stay in production, and the rest will be wildlife habitat.
• Also protected with help from
the MVC: 53 acres on the ridge above La Crosse, Wis., adjacent
to Grandad Bluff; 203 acres near Onalaska, Wis., including
Mississippi blufflands and forested land; a 106-acre easement
near Fountain City, Wis.; an 80-acre easement in Vernon County,
Wis.; and 63 acres in the Wisconsin River Valley in Grant
The La Crosse-based MVC received the
2008 Land Trust of the Year in Wisconsin award by the Gathering
Waters Conservancy, a coalition of Wisconsin’s 50-plus
nonprofit land trusts.
A New Park
St. Paul — A
27.3-acre parcel of land along the Mississippi River near
Fort Snelling will be taken over and managed by the National
Park Service, which already manages the Mississippi River
and Recreation Area, a 72-mile corridor centered on the metro
river. The decision was reached after no other agencies,
colleges or universities came forward with proposals for
The Coldwater Spring site includes
a flowing spring that is of spiritual importance for Native
Americans. It was once a source of water for soldiers at
Fort Snelling, and was for many years a U.S. Bureau of Mines
research center. The 11 abandoned buildings on the site will
be torn down, and the site will be restored as a natural
area for public use.
Award to the Friends
Lansing, Iowa — Friends
of Pool 9, one of the newest of 220 volunteer organizations
across the country that support refuges in the National Wildlife
Refuge system, was given the National Friends Group of the
Year award from the National Wildlife Refuge Association
The group focuses on Pool 9, a 31-mile
stretch of the river from Lock and Dam 8, near Genoa, Wis.,
to Lock and Dam 9, at Harpers Ferry, Iowa. The group is just
four years old and has 400 members. It sponsors river clean-ups,
restoration projects, wildlife surveys, birding festivals
and educational events.
“I’m bursting with pride
for our local bunch of roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work
folks,” said Friends board member and co-founder Ric
Zarwell of Lansing in an email announcement.
Last summer Friends of Pool 9 won a
national award from the Izaak Walton League of America.