Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

River News
From January-February 2010 Big River Magazine

Pretty Town

Guttenberg, Iowa — What does Guttenberg have in common with Annapolis, Md.; Deadwood, S.D.; and Spring City, Utah? They are all exceptionally picturesque, according to the judges at Forbes Traveler magazine, which ran a feature in November on “America’s Prettiest Towns.”

About Guttenberg, judge John Vander Stelt said, ”It’s like a page ripped out of a Mark Twain novel where the Main Street storefronts face the mighty Mississippi. The local city park hugs the shoreline and is reminiscent of Seurat’s painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.’ This quaint village is a laid back slice of Americana.” 8

Balancing Acts

St. Paul — In January Minnesota will begin wrestling into place a new law that updates and adapts local rules protecting the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities Metro Area. The so-called “critical-area” legislation calls for a delicate balance in altering local regulations for riverfront development.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources, charged with enforcing the new law, will meet with communities beginning in January and thereafter will establish advisory committees that reflect “broad interests,” assures Jeff Berg, a DNR hydrologist in St. Paul helping to coordinate the effort.

Berg hopes that those with an interest in the river will have sufficient opportunity to comment on proposed changes in local rules.

The hard part, Berg says, will be establishing a consensus community by community. The range of interests in the river is broad, from conservation to property rights to recreation to transportation.

“Some folks want to preserve it in the natural state,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum, some want to make it more of a working or business river. Reaching consensus to make folks satisfied is going to be a challenge.”

The Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) is entirely within Minnesota, extending 72 miles from Dayton, in central Minnesota, to Hastings to the Wisconsin border, at the confluence with the St. Croix River, corresponding to the stretch of river in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a national park. The federal government doesn’t own much land within the corridor, but the National Park Service is a player, trying to manage significant stretches of riverfront as a national resource.

The Critical Area was established in 1976 under an executive order of Gov. Wendell Anderson. His 1976 order tries to protect and preserve “a unique and valuable state and region for the benefit of the health, safety and welfare” of Minnesotans and others living along the river.

In recent years, some have wished to update the order and make it more specific site by site. The 2009 Minnesota Legislature enacted a law to that effect and directed the DNR to begin setting rules by January 15, giving local governments 30 days’ advance notice.

Under the law, the DNR will set up districts within MRCCA, taking into account municipal plans, policies, existing ordinances and conditions, while protecting “key, identified resources and features,” according to the DNR’s website.

Rep. Rick Hansen, a Democrat from South St. Paul and a backer of the new law, has argued that in some of these districts, “revised standards will more closely match the specific resources in that district and avoid unnecessary protections that come with a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Some fear changes could weaken river protection. The DNR’s Berg notes that St. Paul, with more riverfront than any other community on the river, may become a model for other towns — which worries the Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR), a St. Paul-based river-advocacy group that backed the legislation.

Like every other local government on the river, St. Paul plans to revise its critical-area zoning standards to protect natural, cultural and scenic values. The FMR, however, fears that a new St. Paul ordinance may allow taller buildings along the riverfront, raising height limits for buildings to as much as 48 feet.

Such structures would “routinely break through the tree canopy,” complains the FMR, and would violate the city’s comprehensive plan.

Moreover, in St. Paul’s West Side Flats, the city’s ordinance may allow buildings as tall as 90 feet, with conditional-use permits, says the FMR. In contrast, it adds, Minneapolis limits buildings to 35 feet on the river. Height critics worry that tall buildings would impair views of bluffs.

Indian Site Saved

Hanover, Ill. — A 79-acre plot of land on the banks of the Apple River, purchased in 2006 by the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, was dedicated in October as the Wapello Land Preserve and Indian Village.

Archeologists have found 2,000 house sites, a large burial mound and Indian artifacts dating back to 1050 at the Wapello Preserve. Their research suggests that Woodland and Mississippian peoples may have merged to create a new culture at the site. The site gave them access to the Mississippi River, via the Apple River, which runs through Hanover.

Preston Duncan, a Meskwakie Indian who spoke at the dedication, asked people who might have collected and stored bones from the site to return them, so they can be reburied. Farmers and artifact collectors have combed the site, especially over the burial mound, for more than 100 years.

“Our main focus is to preserve it [the land] because of the value it has to native Americans,” said Jeff Horn, land steward specialist for the foundation. “It is also a good example of prairie restoration.”

Now planted in native prairie grasses, the area offers a glimpse of what Illinois once looked like. “Although we are the ‘prairie state,’ most people here have not seen prairie plants and animals,” Horn said.

The foundation bought the land for $235,000 in 2006 from the Archeological Conservancy, which had bought it from a farmer in 2005. Using $284,00 in grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and from the state Stewardship Incentive program. The group planted native prairie grasses, where there formerly had been soy beans and corn, carved out 1.8 miles of hiking trails and constructed a visitors’ parking lot and kiosk.

To volunteer to help at the site, visit the foundation website or call the Friends of the Hanover Group, 815-858-9100.

Stop Sexy Naif Forests

Ever use one of those online translation websites? Tour Travel Agency, a travel agency in India, apparently used computer translation to describe for English-speaking website customers what they might expect from a visit to the Mississippi River:

This apparently became this.

Some excerpts:

“The famous river River offers some attractions and attractive activities the flooded assemblage round. Read boost and undergo more."

"If you hit not been to the Midwest of the United States, the river River is digit Brobdingnagian think to visit. The long river in the United States, the Mississippi’s 3,720 km size is a fascinating embody of liquid that draws thousands of visitors apiece year."

The site waxed eloquent about the many birds here — “flocks of enthusiastic chromatic herons, denudate eagles and pretty pelicans.”

And of course, you should take a boat ride:

“Boating trips along the Upper river brings you threesome steps fireman to nature and wildlife as precipitous hills stop sexy naif forests and wildlife preserves. Glimpses of asleep diminutive towns and villages are circumpolar.”

Don’t miss Dubuque’s National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium:

“Adults and children savor the distribution of the Midwest fauna that the museum keeps … If travel finished the museum watch digit pass to the incoming makes you poverty to apprehensiveness and behave for a bit, you crapper do so over a prize of drink at the café. Home to individual imperishable and temporary exhibitions, the museum gives you a seeable statement of a Brobdingnagian assets of the story of the dweller Midwest.”


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