Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

September-October 2011


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River News
From September-October 2011 Big River

River Makeover

Farmington, Minn. — Left to itself, the Mississippi River constantly makes itself over — carving a new channel, caving a bank. But can a Minnesota coalition do a “Mississippi Makeover” to restore natural areas and reduce turbidity in Pools 2 and 3?

“We have a plan in place,” said Laura Jester, watershed conservationist with the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District in Farmington, which coordinates the makeover project. “We have an engaged group of citizens and stakeholders. We’re talking about pretty big things.” So far, the group consists of elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, agencies, industries and businesses.

Plans include building islands in pools 2 and 3 near Red Wing, Minn., to prevent ongoing erosion that has plagued the area. The Mississippi traditionally flowed through ­braided channels with islands and long sloughs. In some places it still does. However, with dams maintaining higher water levels, islands have eroded away, creating what experts call a long “fetch” — larger open stretches of water where winds can stir up larger waves that destroy sand banks and stir up sediments that cloud the water. Rebuilding islands stops the destructive process. Similar island-­building projects undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers in pools 5 and 8 have been successful, Jester noted.

In Dakota County’s Ravenna Township, Mississippi Makeover activists are working with property owners to encourage them to slow runoff into a steep creek bed feeding into the lower Vermillion River.

Still another potential goal would target common carp — not the recent invasive Asian varieties but the ones brought here a hundred years ago. Common carp stir up the bottom and silt up the water. “Common carp have a lot to do with turbidity in quiet backwaters and lakes,” said Jester.

The project aims to drive the carp out of the area near where the Vermillion River joins the Mississippi at Hastings, Minn. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has already installed a low levee in a flood plain. Because the levee is mostly underwater, it may make carp feel trapped and induce them to leave.


Queens Return

There may be two big sternwheelers cruising the Upper Mississippi next summer. American Cruise Lines launched the Queen of the Mississippi nine weeks ahead of schedule, on June 17, in Maryland. The upper two decks still need to be added and the outfitting completed. Watch the launching.

The five-deck Queen will have all the amenities of a modern cruise boat, but will look like a classic Mississippi riverboat. Cruising will be mainly during the night, so passengers can explore and shop in communities along the way.

The first cruise is scheduled for August 2012, with the first Upper Miss cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul on September 1.

Meanwhile, the Memphis-based Great American Steamboat Co. plans to get the refurbished 436-passenger American Queen back on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in April 2012. The boat has been mothballed since the end of 2008. The new company would like to give passengers a memorable dining and travel experience, and will focus on mature travelers “seeking adventure with comfort,” according to the Cruise Guru.

The Delta Queen, the oldest of the three former queens, is now a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. In June it was purchased by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which runs concessions and activities at national and state parks. The company made no comment about its future.

The Mississippi Queen was sold for scrap last year.

In St. Louis, another old boat, the St. Louis-based Admiral, built in 1940 on the hull of a 1907 ferry, made its forlorn way to the scrap yard in July. After serving as an excursion boat for four decades, it became the gambling boat the President Casino in 1994. The steel-clad, art deco monster had no serious takers at an auction last fall.

To add insult to injury, the entire top deck had to be whacked off in order for it to fit under bridges on its final journey. (The Marietta Times, 7-26-11, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7-8-11, Cruise Guru, 6-23-11)

Heron Survivors Released

Minneapolis — A mid-May tornado wrecked a large heron rookery on an island in North Mississippi Regional Park. Trees, heron nests and young chicks all crashed to the ground. Sixty nests were lost. Nine heron chicks — a small proportion of the original population — were rescued. Adult herons circled in confusion for several days, then eventually flew off to make new nests in other rookeries.

Two months later, seven of the rescued chicks had recovered and grown to nearly adult size. They were released at a small lake in Coon Rapids Regional Park, near another rookery. The rescued birds should have a good chance of successfully migrating to the Gulf this fall. (Camden Community News, August 2011)

Marketing Carp

Pearl, Ill. — Carp is very popular in China, but a few years ago Chinese customers weren’t greatly interested in Asian carp exported from the United States. It was more expensive and customers preferred fresh, locally caught fish. Marketing and some help from the state of Illinois seems to have changed that for the Big River Fish Corp.

Big River is now moving out of its old processing plant, housed in a former chicken slaughterhouse, and into a new, 80,000-square-foot plant in order to fulfill a 30-million-pound order from China. The new facility will make it easier to catch, collect, gut, clean, freeze, pack and ship the fish efficiently.

Slogans such as “Upper Mississippi wild-caught carp,” “with so much energy they jump!” have snagged the interest of upscale restaurants and food distributors in China. The company’s expansion was bolstered by a $2 million grant from the state of Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to process tons of Asian carp and donate it to food banks. The DNR is working with Feeding Illinois, an association of food pantries, to provide them with processed carp and to test recipes, like fish sticks and canned carp.

The DNR said the next step is selling the idea to supermarkets and the general public, but this may be difficult. As Kevin Irons of the DNR said, “Carp is a four-letter word.”

Perhaps they should consider calling it the river snapper, Big River Magazine’s new name for the energetic silver carp. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7-14-11,, 7-17-11)

A Ducky Year

Ducks liked all the snowmelt and rain in Canada and the Dakotas this breeding season, and the numbers show it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) breeding duck survey showed 45.6 million ducks, up 11 percent from the 2010 estimate, and up 35 percent from the long-term estimates. Blue winged teal, pintails and mallards were especially populous compared to last year.

That’s good news for hunters, too. States use these numbers to adjust hunting regulations every year. Wisconsin has added a new, third hunting zone along the Mississippi. The new zone splits the 60-day season into two segments, allowing hunting later into December, which Mississippi River hunters have advocated for since 1987.

The 2011 Minnesota season will open one week earlier and offer more options for hunters. Since the number of duck hunters has been decreasing, the state wants to “improve hunter opportunities and satisfaction while maintaining healthy waterfowl populations,” according to Tom Lanwehr, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 8-1-11)

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