When you think of the Mississippi River, what do you think of? Do you think of mile long bridges over a glassy surface? Do you think of deep water teaming with giant catfish? Do you think of levee breaches and houses on stilts? Do you think of big barges and Huckleberry Finn? There are a number of images that come to mind when the Mississippi River is invoked, but one image people rarely relate to the Mighty Mississippi is white water rapids. And that was the image introduced by Ron Way and Steve Berg in the Star Tribune last week.
Their story sparked a lot of imagination and dialogue about the future of the Mississippi River post-commercial navigation. And it’s a conversation we absolutely must have as the Corps of Engineers starts looking at the future of their infrastructure around the nation. Too often, the Corps has walked away from their responsibilities, like the Hennepin Canal in Northern Illinois. That Canal was built to provide a short-cut between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. It was over 100 miles long and open for less than 50 years. Almost as soon as it was built, it was obsolete as barge configurations had already outgrown the infrastructure. What did the Corps do when it was closed? Walk away.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Minneapolis, talking to different groups about the future of the Mississippi River through their downtown, and while not everyone is on board with Restoring the Gorge (yet) everyone does agree that the Corps will not walk away from their infrastructure. They built it and drowned the only remaining big river rapid on the Upper Mississippi River, decimating important habitat for many species. If the infrastructure won’t be used for commercial navigation, than it needs to be removed or altered to restore the rapids.
Oh, and a white water park for kayaking, rafting and fly-fishing will be sweet too. A dam removal on the Kickapoo River in Wisconsin sparked a recreation industry that now generates $1.2 million annually. So, just think of the revenue that the restoration of the gorge would generate in a city the size of Minneapolis.
So what’s next? American Rivers will be hosting a forum this fall with our partners in Minneapolis to discuss how to proceed with the restoration concept. The forum will try to answer questions about the project, like invasive species concerns, and identify the many barriers that stand between Minneapolis and its wild river. I hope you can join us.