Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

River News
From September-October 2010 Big River Magazine

Fish Passage

Red Wing, Minn. — Before the locks and dams were built, skipjack herring migrated up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Anthony Falls, in Minneapolis. Now skipjacks are a rare sight on the upper river and many fish species are blocked from making even short journeys up and down the river.

They may be in for a break soon, albeit a small one. The Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies are asking for public input on plans to improve fish passage through or around Lock and Dam 3 (upstream from Red Wing). This could do more than just expand the range of fish in pools 3 and 4 — it would re-establish a connection between the St. Croix and Chippewa river watersheds and provide a model for helping fish to get around other dams on the river.

Fish move up and down rivers to spawn, feed, winter, flee an inhospitable area, search for better habitat or other reasons. Increased mobility should enhance fish populations in the area. Many species of mussels depend on migrating fish.

Some fish can swim through the dams, especially when all the gates are out of the water during the spring flood, but when the gates are in the water, many, especially small fish, are blocked. A few lock through. The Vermillion River, on the Minnesota side, provides a limited link around the dam, but migrating fish instinctively swim up through the current and may have difficulty finding a small channel like the Vermillion or a lock.

There are several possible ways to improve fish passage. Operating the dam gates differently may improve passage. A channel that doubles back on itself may be built on the Wisconsin side to slow the current and allow passage. Dredging could open up some of the links between the Vermillion and the Mississippi above Lock and Dam 3. Perhaps there are other opportunities yet to be discovered.

A draft feasibility report is scheduled for release in early November, and completion of the final report is scheduled for January. Corps website


Winona, Minn. — On October 10, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is hosting parties up and down the river to celebrate the Upper Mississippi being named a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The events, dubbed “10-10-10,” include geocaching, photography, birdwatching and cleanups. The public is invited.

Dignitaries are coming from many states and countries to a formal celebration in Trempealeau, Wis., October 14.

The Upper Mississippi joins 1,000 other wetlands around the globe that have been recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands. 10-10-10 refuge events

Ghosts on the Water

Lansing, Iowa — Folks in Iowa and Illinois rivertowns should keep a lookout in September for the Unseen Ghost Brigade, an adventurous street-theater troupe performing in parks and on riverfronts. They are traveling on a home-made raft, the Riff Raft, powered by a 40 hp 1965 Evinrude outboard and bedecked with bicycles, lawn chairs and everything else six young adults might need to live life and create theater on the river.

Their theater style involves elements of circus, acrobatics, physical comedy, music and puppets. They portray the ghosts of river characters from history, like Costello, a fortune teller and tramp; John Merle, a river pirate; and Bessie Diamond, a New Orleans courtesan.

“We use theater to communicate about nature, the river and class issues. About wilderness versus industry, and how the river resists attempts to control it, just like the characters in our plays resist society’s attempts to control them,” said Rachel Johnson, who goes by the nickname Olli.

The group started in Minneapolis on June 21 and hopes to be at the Gulf of Mexico by New Years. They’ve been plagued by leaky pontoons, floating debris, broken oars, an unreliable motor and their inexperience on the river.

“We’re not boaters, we’re artists!” said Olli. “But there are a lot of visionaries on this boat — it makes us really stubborn. We won’t quit even if it gets cold.”

Check their website, read the blog and find out where to meet up with them this fall.

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