Become a Part of History: Join the National River Cleanup®


A couple volunteers found some great artifacts at the Milwaukee Riverkeeper cleanup! | Avita Flowers Shanklin

A couple volunteers found some great artifacts at the Milwaukee Riverkeeper cleanup! | © Avita Flowers Shanklin

Rivers connect us. And not just to communities and ecosystems downstream, but to past and future generations as well. I remember the first time I saw the Mississippi River. I was on my way to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, when I made a last-minute stop at the visitor center, located on the banks of the Mississippi.

I slipped my sandals off and dipped my feet into the cool water. It was a hot and muggy night and the mosquitoes were hungry. After a few moments, I lost myself to the sound of waves slopping against the bank. I remembered when I first learned how to spell Mississippi, hundreds of miles away in Colorado Springs where rivers are small and often ran dry.

I imagined I was floating down the Mississippi River on a handmade raft like Jim and Huck in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I thought about all the other people who came in contact with the river throughout history. I imagined what it would have been like for Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer who navigated the river in 1541, or for the Cahokia tribe, which built vast settlements along the Mississippi River thousands of years earlier. I also wondered about the people who would visit the Mississippi in the future.

The Mississippi River is just one of more than 250,000 rivers that run across the United States. Each has a unique history that connects past and future generations to the communities who rely on those waterways today. Become a part of history by volunteering at or organizing a cleanup on your local waterway.