Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

July-August 2011


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River News
From July-August 2011 Big River

Save ‘Em, Shoot ‘Em

Kentucky — What’s the sport in shooting a big, slow-flying, red-eyed bird? Ask Kentucky’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, which in June approved a hunting season on sandhill cranes that migrate through the state. Neighboring Tennessee proposed a season, but deferred a decision for two years. Kentucky is the first state east of the Mississippi River to establish a hunting season on eastern sandhill cranes, a subpopulation that rebounded from near extinction caused by overhunting in the 1930s. The eastern population includes cranes that nest along the Upper Mississippi.

Kentucky hunters could take a total of 400 birds during the hunting season, with a limit of two tags per hunter. Kentucky’s hunting season must be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is considering the idea and will make a final ruling in August.

Wisconsin, home of the International Crane Foundation, which sponsors the annual crane count, is also considering a hunting season.

Wherever you see sandhills in migration you also have a chance of seeing a whooping crane. Whooping cranes, still rare and protected after many years of work to return them from the edge of extinction, may get a second protected site in Wisconsin. White River Marsh State Wildlife Area will see its first whooper chicks this summer, sent from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. They’ll train with volunteers in ultralight airplanes, preparing for their first migration. No visitors will be allowed near the whoopers, but a live camera will be mounted on the airplane for a live video stream on the internet.

Bird Walks & Golfcart Rolls

Savanna, Ill. — Want to get in on the action and see some of the many birds that migrate through the river valley? Expert guides from the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge, a volunteer group, will lead two- to three-hour tours on the second Saturday of each month, throughout the year, starting at the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center. The center is between Thomson and Savanna, Ill. Tours start at 8 a.m., to give birds and birders a chance to wake up.

Birders with impaired mobility can sign up for a seven-passenger golf cart tour on every third Saturday and the first and third Thursdays of each month through October.

Registration for the bird walk is requested, and for the golf cart tour it is required. Call Connie at 815-565-0024 or email for more information, or check the organization’s website for this and other activities on the refuge.

Stand-up Paddler

Itasca, Minn. — Most, if not evrybody, who has paddled the river from headwaters to Gulf has done it sitting down in a canoe or kayak, but Alex Linnell hopes to set a world record or two by making the trip standing up. His boat is a modified surfboard called a paddleboard, which is paddled with a long oar from a standing position. If he finishes the trip he’ll be the first to travel the length of the Mississippi on a stand-up paddleboard, and he could also take the record for longest stand-up paddleboard trip, logging 2,350 miles downriver. That would top last summer’s record of 1,507 miles set by Tom Jones, who paddled from Key West to New York City.

Alex is promoting donations to the Red Cross to help flood victims on the river.

The 21-year-old Minnesotan launched his 11.5-foot paddleboard at the headwaters on June 1 and will switch to a 14-foot board when he gets to the Twin Cities. He’s wearing a GPS unit that tracks his progress, and estimates it will take 60 to 90 days of paddling to go the distance. Follow him through a link on the Big River website.

Stand-up paddleboarding, he says, has many advantages over other forms of paddling: it gives the paddler a better view of the water and possible hazards, while providing a full-body workout. See Alex' progress as well as two other paddleboarders and other travelers on the river on Big River's River Trips page.

Silt from Upstream

Lake Pepin — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) released the first draft of a TMDL (“total maximum daily load”) in early May that recommends that the Minnesota River reduce its sediment load by up to 60 percent. Without drastic reductions in the flow of sediment from the Minnesota and other tributaries, scientists say the 40-square-mile Lake Pepin may silt up by 2100.

The lake is a stretch of the Mississippi about 20 miles long and more than a mile and a half wide. Most of the sediment that’s choking the lake comes from the Minnesota River, which drains a vast swath of Minnesota farmland in its 300-mile course. The Upper Mississippi gets nearly a million tons of sediment from tributaries above Lake Pepin.

Many of the upstream farm fields are tiled, which drains water more quickly into rivers on the Minnesota watershed. Another problem may be the predominance of soybeans in the Minnesota River watershed. Soybeans absorb less moisture than the hay and other vegetation that soybeans have replaced since about 1940, said Norman Senjem, Mississippi River basin coordinator for the Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency (PCA).

The purpose of the TMDL is to define the maximum amount of sediment that can be carried without violating water quality standards. The PCA has been working on the TMDL process for many years. The Environmental Protection Agency must approve the TMDL before the PCA can move to implement changes that will reduce sediment.

What happens next? “We haven’t gotten to the next step,” Senjem said. “This part gets discussed more.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican-controlled legislature have been at loggerheads over the state budget. Many other issues, such as limiting sediment pouring from the Minnesota River into the Mississippi, have been on hold during that fracas. Given the state’s political situation, the issue may not be decided for a long time.

“It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take some political will,” predicted Whitney Clark, executive director at Friends of the Mississippi River, a St. Paul-based river-advocacy group, “and yet it doesn’t take that much imagination to figure out how we do this.”

Bridge Updates

Minneapolis — The community paper for the city’s Camden neighborhood called the Lowry Avenue Bridge the “singing bridge” because of the high-pitched whine that automobile tires drew from it as vehicles crossed. A Minneapolis landmark since 1905, the bridge was imploded in 2009 “for safety reasons” related to a failing pier, inspectors reported.

Construction of a replacement bridge began in 2010 and may be finished by the summer of 2012. The rebuild entered its second phase in April of this year, with contractors removing a retaining wall near the Mississippi’s west bank and rebuilding both roadway and bridge. The new bridge deck will extend across the river this summer and the new arch by the autumn.

St. Paul — U.S. 52 is a key artery into downtown St. Paul from the city’s suburbs to the south — traffic packing the 1960s-vintage Lafayette Bridge. The onus on this busy span is that inspectors rate it worse than the bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis that collapsed under rush-hour traffic in 2007, killing 13.

Work on replacing the Lafayette Bridge began in January and may be complete by autumn of 2014. Meanwhile, the old bridge remains open, but motorists will see “intermittent lane and ramp closures,” according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT). The new bridge will carry bicycle and pedestrian traffic on a trail at the downstream side.

Hastings, Minn. — The “100-year” arch bridge will replace the existing suspension span carrying Highway 61 across the Mississippi in downtown Hastings. The new bridge may be ready by June 2013. Meanwhile, on the existing bridge, two-way motor vehicle traffic continues, one lane in each direction, except during inspections, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Bicyclists and pedestrians, however, must take other routes. Businesses remain accessible, as do local marinas, and river navigation channels are open.

Dresbach, Minn. — After the Minnesota DOT announced that it will not include access for bicyclists and pedestrians on the new I-90 Bridge that will replace the existing bridge, the La Crosse Area Planning Commission voted unanimously to send the DOT back to the drawing board. In a letter to the DOT the LAPC pointed out that its regional plan requires such accommodations, unless there are clear and compelling conditions that prevent them.

Moline, Ill. — Rehabilitation work on the I-74 Bridge connecting Moline and Bettendorf, Iowa, sometimes slow traffic on the bridge and approaches. Work is scheduled to be completed by October 24, weather permitting.

To read more Mississippi River news and stories, order this issue or find Big River at one of these retail outlets.