Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

January-February 2012


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River News
From January-February 2012 Big River

“The Eagles” Season 2

Decorah, Iowa — One of the three eaglets that kept millions of people at their screens watching her hatch in April and fledge in June, may be headed back home.

On July 12, “D1,” the female eaglet from the nest with the webcam near the Decorah Fish Hatchery, was released by the Raptor Resource Project, a nonprofit established in 1988 to preserve falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks and owls. Before release, D1 was banded and equipped with two transmitters. One is solar-powered and sends GPS coordinates via satellite. The other is a short-range unit that allows a directional antenna to pinpoint her position.

D1 stayed close to the nest for a month after her banding and left the Decorah area on August 14. By late August she had flown more than 200 miles to the Yellow Lake region in northwest Wisconsin. From there she was tracked in early September to northeastern Minnesota, west of Lake Superior. Then she turned back toward Yellow Lake.

Observers report that D1 seems to be socializing with other mature and juvenile eagles and to be well fed, with an extended crop. She’s honing her flying and hunting skills. When she is four or five years old, she’ll probably be looking for a mate, nesting, and raising offspring. Meanwhile, her main task is to survive.

On October 15, D1 left Yellow Lake and headed south. By November 3, she was near Black River Falls, Wis., 90 miles northeast of the nest in Decorah.

You can track her at the Raptor Resource website.

In mid-October, a new camera was installed near the Decorah Fish Hatchery eagle nest on the banks of Trout Run in preparation for the 2012 nesting season. Mom and Dad are already busy refurbishing the nest. Watch them at the website.

Restoring Coldwater Spring

Minneapolis — A 27-acre site near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, between Fort Snelling and Minnehaha Park, is undergoing a restoration that should be complete by next fall, when the Coldwater Spring area will open for hiking, biking and other public use as a unit of the National Park Service’s (NPS) Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Twelve big limestone and brick buildings that formerly belonged to the U.S. Bureau of Mines are being torn down. The buildings once housed mining research facilities. They were heavily vandalized over the last 20 years. The copper was stolen, windows broken and walls covered with graffiti, inside and out.

The spring for which the place is named has spiritual significance for Dakota Indians. Many are disappointed that, after a lot of discussion, the NPS will continue to own the property. Some are pursuing legal efforts to reclaim it. Meanwhile, the spring, which now settles in a stone pool before entering culverts, will be opened up so it flows naturally across the land, as it once did.

When Fort Snelling was built, in the early 1800s, the spring was an important source of water for the fort and nearby settlers. The NPS plans to tell the history of the site with interpretive signs recounting stories of the Dakota, the fort, the mining research and the restoration.

The land still contains remnants of a prairie and oak savanna, which will be carefully restored. Twenty-two acres adjacent to the area that belong to the Veteran’s Administration will also be landscaped with native plants. This land may be added to the park in the future.

From now until next fall the area is closed. However NPS rangers will give tours of the Coldwater Spring area on January 7 and 21, February 4 and 18 and March 3, 17 and 31. For information, check the MNRRA website. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10-25-11, 10-31-11) 

Frac Sand Update

Counties and cities along the Upper Mississippi River are scrambling to deal with the demand for “frac sand,” a particular kind of sand that is used for drilling for natural gas and oil. Frac sand is found in great abundance in the area. (See “Sand Dollars — Mining Frac Sand in the River Valley,” Big River July-August 2011.)

Citizens in western Wisconsin have petitioned the state Department of Natural Resources to list the sand as a toxic particulate and regulate exposure to it.

In Minnesota, Wabasha County and Goodhue County put a one-year moratorium on permits for new sand mines. Winona County is considering one. In Wisconsin, Trempealeau County permits new mines and Buffalo County recently decided against a moratorium.

The city of Winona, which has nine frac sand facilities in operation or slated to be, is already seeing increasing numbers of trucks loaded with the sand coming across the bridge from Wisconsin. According to the University of Minnesota Transportation and Information Center, a trip by a loaded five-axle truck causes the same amount of wear on a road as 9,600 cars.

Blasting in the city by Biesanz Stone Company is rattling windows and nerves in some neighborhoods.

In McGregor, Iowa, many citizens are still trying to get the Pattison Sand Company to send its trucks around the town rather than down Main Street, where they claim the trucks are damaging streets, water lines and, perhaps, historic buildings.

Go to Previous River News (November-Decembr 2011)

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